Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saintly Saturday: Conception of the Theotokos & Ever-Virgin Mary

Today is the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos & Ever-Virgin Mary. Yes, you read that right: the Orthodox Church is celebrating a sexual act today and glorifying the result of the act. Western Christianity, for better or worse, is heavily influenced by St. Augustine when it comes to sex and he had a major problem with it. In contrast, the East has always had a far more positive view of the marriage bed:
And how become they one flesh? As if you should take the purest part of gold, and mingle it with the other gold; so in truth here also the women as it were receiving the richest part fused by pleasure, nourishes it and cherishes it, and throughout contributing her own share, restores it back to the man. And the child is a sort of bridge so that the three become on flesh, the child connecting, on either side, each to each… What then? When there is not child, will they not be two? Not so, for their coming together has this effect; it diffuse and commingles the bodies of both. And as one who has poured ointment into oil has made the whole one; so in truth is it also here — St. John Chrysostom, On Marriage and Family Life.
Notice the bed...

The origin of this feast, of course, is not to be found in the Bible. Rather, it reflects the story told in the Protoevangelium of James. This brings up a common theme with anti-Christian apologetics, that there were lots of books written in the first couple of centuries after Christ about Christianity and that many of them were “banned,” “suppressed,” or “concealed.” Yes, there are a bunch of books. A lot of them are heretical. A lot of them do not share the tight focus of the New Testament: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Some of them were written by people who did not know Christ or his Disciples.

A fact that often gets lost in the shuffle is that the Bible was compiled over the course of almost three centuries. The first time we see the books of the bible listed as we know it today was in the fourth century by St. Athanasius the Great. Even he considered books outside this list to be “good for reading.” Examples include the Letters of Clement, The Shepherd of Hermas and the Protoevangelium of James. Some were even read in context of Church Services; however, ultimately, none of these made it into the Bible for a variety of reasons.

This illustrates an important axiom when it comes to the Bible: the New Testament was written by Christians for Christians. They had every right to determine what was going to be in the New Testament and what wasn’t.

This axiom is actually very relevant today in context of D&D because, living in a Golden Age of RPGs as we do, there is a proliferation of different versions of the game. Just in the last couple of months, for example, I have produced three. Not only do we have 0e, 1e, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, 4e and 5e but we have of the various iterations in the world of retro-clones and their ilk.

Imagine for a moment someone who doesn’t play RPGs comes in to say that Rune Quest was “suppressed” and represents true Dungeons & Dragons. While the history of Rune Quest has its origins in D&D, it is rarely accepted by those of us who actually play these games as D&D.

The axiom above is applicable to D&D in the sense that these games are written by gamers and for gamers. Therefore, we, to a large extent, get to determine what is and isn’t “D&D.” I will grant from a legal POV this isn’t entirely true because there are legal ramifications for using “Dungeons & Dragons” on a product without permission from WotC, but you can’t tell me the phrase “We’re playing D&D tonight” cannot be applied to anything from 0e to S&W to LL to Pathfinder to 4e to 5e. Despite all of the edition wars that have been fought over the years, ultimately, it is we who play the game that really determine what is and isn’t ‘D&D.’

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Isometric Map Experiment

Of all the iconic and popular TSR modules, the one I probably dislike the most is I6: Ravenloft. While it reads like a pretty decent dungeon crawl with some nice innovations (like the different goals of the Count and his variable locations through the castle, etc.), I have always found it to be unplayable. 

The reason for this is simple: trying to read and make sense of that isometric map gives me a headache. I actually tried to run Ravenloft once in a session and practically abandoned the module in favor of making stuff up on the spot because that was far more enjoyable that trying to figure out where everything was on the map.

Ever since the release of Ravenloft, I have avoided isometric maps like the plague. I would even be tempted to say that I hate them because they render otherwise good material into real or digital toilet paper. I say almost because I will certainly admit that a well done isometric map is a pretty thing to look at. I will also concede that I have wondered if there aren't times when an isometric map could actually do a better job at the table of presenting certain ideas.

As I am gearing up to actually do my own version of ToEE, I got an idea that might very well fall into this category: it is a four story tall room with entrances on all four stories. As an experiment, I ventured to produce an isometric map. I then produced the exact same map in a more traditional way to see which of the two did a better job.

Please note: these two maps are not finished products. I kept the maps relatively simple so that I could easily wrap my head around both versions; however, as rough drafts of an idea I think they both do a very good job of being proofs of concept.



Putting aside which one is "prettier," because I am not really interested in that at this point, which one would you rather have at the table to run a game?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

It's Re-Imagination Time!

As those who have followed this blog over the years are probably aware, my favorite TSR module of all time is T1:The Village of Hommlet. There really is no contest. It is one of the very few TSR modules I have actually ran as a Referee and it is the only one I have ran multiple times. I have even re-skinned it on numerous occasions. Headwaters in my Lost Colony Campaign started life as the map from T1.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I was sore disappointed when T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil finally made its way to publication. While I have used the surface temple map as an entrance to other dungeons, I have never actually bothered to run it outside of a failed attempt at a solo campaign from some summer when I was in college and was desperate for some gaming.

Therefore, it has been the TSR module I have most wanted to re-imagine a la Slave Pits of Abhoth are to A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity and The Caves of Cormakir are to B2: The Keep on the Borderland. I have drawn maps, re-skinned Druids as elemental monsters and fiddled with the idea for years. Unfortunately, nothing has ever really inspired me to go beyond tinkering.

While I have been working on my various alternate versions of SWCL, I have been trying to wrack my brains as to what kind of adventure I could write up to support SWCL since it has set up permanent residency in my gamer heart and mind. It occurred to me that I could write up a mega-dungeon based on maps I’ve done in the past and ran in my Lost Colonies Campaign (with mixed results, thus justifying the re-write). It also occurred to me that these maps could be the foundation of my version of ToEE. Once I had that thought, ideas just started flowing.

The first big idea, the one where this will most obviously be a re-imagining, is to ditch the 4-part European elemental system and replace it with the 5-part Asian system. In terms of gaming, it offers a lot of world-building and factional goodness that the 4-part system lacks. For example, each element has two “opposites,” one element it likes to work with and another that likes to work with that element. Therefore, there is a given structure to motivations and factional disputes that is really easy to re-skin for use in an RPG.

There are also a bunch of associations that are made with each element that are not necessarily obvious at first glance, but not only make some sense but suggest a much richer elemental creature catalog than that suggested by a 4-part elemental structure. For example, here are how the animal associations are described:
Wood = Scaly
Fire = Feathers
Earth = Human
Metal = Fur
Water = Shelled
Given that we are talking about a corruption of nature, this gives me the ability to assign two different archetypal creatures to each element: one is ideal and the other is corrupt:
Wood = Dragonborn/Troglodyte
Fire = Kenku/Dire Corby
Earth = Human/Humanoid
Metal = Ratling/Wererat
Water = Crabmen/Spiders and Driders
Once you start skinning these creatures in elemental clothes and add in other related creatures this very quickly becomes a fertile ground for all kinds of ideas.

Finally, there is one really punny idea that really started this ball rolling and one that as an Old Grognard I cannot resist: Hermit Crabmen.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Saintly Saturday: The Prophet Habakkuk

Today is the Feast of the Prophet Habakkuk. Not much is known about this Prophet, because, unlike almost every other prophet, his book does not give any biographical information. Several things can be gleaned from Scripture, however. He speaks of the Chaldeans and therefore places him at or about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. There is also a book popularly known as Bal and the Dragon and is understood to be apocryphal by the Protestants and deuterocanonical by the Catholics. In the Orthodox Christian tradition, it is included in the book of Daniel. Habakkuk is preparing a meal and is approached by an angel who tells him to make enough for two. He does so and then is taken by the angel to the pit where Daniel has been imprisoned with the lions. The second meal is lowered to Daniel and Habakkuk is returned home.



The Book of Habakkuk is one of my favorites. He is one of the only Prophets to directly challenge God:
O Lord, how long shall I cry,
And You will not hear?
Even cry out to You, “Violence!”
And You will not save.
Why do You show me iniquity,
And cause me to see trouble?
For plundering and violence are before me;
There is strife, and contention arises.
Therefore the law is powerless,
And justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
How many of us have said something like this to God? Here is one of His prophets giving us voice.

It is also short, so it is not that difficult of a read from a time perspective and yet is one of the most challenging book in Scripture because of all the amazing imagery he uses. Check out these verses from Chapter 3:
God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.
The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand, where his power lay hidden.
Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Or your anger against the rivers, or your rage against the sea,when you drove your horses, your chariots to victory?
You brandished your naked bow, sated were the arrows at your command.
You marched through the land in indignation;
You trampled the nations in anger.
You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
For salvation with Your Anointed.
Chapter 3 is actually acknowledged to be a song and, believe it or not, the Orthodox Church actually uses it as the basis for many of her of hymns. Metaphorically, this whole chapter speaks to the incarnation of Christ. He comes from the Virgin (the mountain) and conquers the nations as the Anointed One (which is what “Christ” means). Growing up I hated Christmas, and this hymn made me look past my own pain and appreciate the awesome nature of the Feast.

From the perspective of an RPG, consider this description of the Chaldeans from Chapter 1:
Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on.
Yea, their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
They all come for violence; terror of them goes before them. They gather captives like sand.
Imagine that as the description for a monster type. Imagine that as the basis for the main baddies of a campaign world. Is there a FRPG monster that fits this bill? One of the more mundane possibilities would be Worg riding Goblins. Or would you just make something up whole cloth?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Gene Wars (SWCL)

For those wondering where I have been the last couple of weeks, I have been fighting with Gene Wars, my third installment of Swords and Wizardy Continual Light alternate versions. And I do mean fighting. I went through three editorial choices on this puppy before it finally relented and I could stop thinking about it. Whenever I started to actually write something for the blog, an idea for Gene Wars would intrude and off I was trying to make the thing leave me alone.

At any rate, I present to you Gene Wars:


You can find it here.

As per usual, I am pretty sure there are errors throughout. If you are so inclined, please leave comments below of any you happen across. Thank you!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Menas of Egypt

Today is the Feast of St. Menas of Egypt. His moniker comes from his birthplace and his martyrium. His life, however, took place mostly in Phrygia (central Turkey). During the reign of Diocletian, he not only distinguished himself as a soldier, but embraced the monastic life of a Christian. When orders came to persecute Christians, he renounced his rank and withdrew to the mountains. This took place in the city of Cotyaion (modern day K├╝tahya).

Once, when he was passing through the city, a pagan festival was going on. St. Menas loudly condemned the fete as impious. The prefect Pyrrhus had him arrested and, when the saint refused to take up his military rank as a bribe to denounce Christ, had St. Menas tortured.

As normally happens with martyrs, he endured many vile and cruel tortures through strength given him by God. When none of these worked, Pyrrhus was forced to have the saint beheaded. This is significant, because beheading is a citizen’s death. The crime Christians were accused of was treachery. Therefore, they didn’t deserve a citizen’s death. Over and over again, however, Christians were beheaded. Thus, the very state that was persecuting and killing Christians was declaring that the crime they were accusing Christians of was false.

After his death, Christians gathered up his relics, hid them and later moved them to Alexandria, Egypt. There, his relics became famous due to the number of miracles worked through them. His martyium became a place of pilgrimage. Evidence shows that these journeys came from all over the world, even from as far away as Ireland. To this day, he is still invoked as a healer, a protector from demons and as a finder of lost objects.



The idea of people in the ancient world traveling thousands of miles to visit a relic suggests a very interesting FRPG adventure set-up or even a campaign. There are plenty of examples of saints not allowing their relics to be moved and plenty of saints whose relics are incorrupt (thus suggesting that they cannot be destroyed). Thus, in a FRPG campaign world there could be a well known saint whose relics lie deep within (insert your favorite humanoid/monster race here) territory. The area once belonged to Civilization, but when it was overrun by monsters, the saint refused to leave and the monsters could not destroy the relics.

Today, there is still demand among the faithful to go on pilgrimage despite the dangers. Thus, an adventure could be written around the idea of a prince or other important person afflicted with a magical disease that they believe can only be cured by visiting the saint’s relics. The adventurers are hired to help with the expedition. Enterprising characters (especially clerics) could then spend a campaign rooting out the monsters so that the relics become the centerpiece of their Stronghold.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Advanced Edition SWCL + Mutants

As I was meditating on an “Advanced” version of SWCL and looking through some of my old gaming notes, it occurred to me that Goblinoid Games produced Mutant Future before it produced Advanced Edition Companion for LL. I also noted that I have endeavored a couple of times to create a Thundarr the Barbarian-esque take on D&D. Therefore, the beginning of idea began forming in my head: what if “Advanced” SWCL was a mash-up of stuff from SWCL, the stuff I’ve done with MMII and FF as well as elements from a Mutant Future/Gamma World-type setting?

Here is how I would do it:

Rather than the classic trope of a nuclear holocaust leading to the kinds of mutations one expects out of MF/GW, I would steer in the direction of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In other words, the thing that destroys civilization as we know it isn’t a nuclear conflagration, but rather the attempt to avoid such an event through genetic manipulation to create the perfect soldier. Thus, the end of the world comes with a "Gene War" rather than a nuclear one.

This scenario justifies the existence of elves, dwarves, halflings, beastmen and even mutants. All of these are attempts at super soldiers. It even justifies all kinds of cosmetic weirdness in human characters. What to play a blue-skinned warrior with a pink mohawk? Sure. Chalk it up to instability in the over-manufactured human genome.

An intro might look something like this:

Sometime in the future, the human race embarks on a journey to transform themselves by playing with their own genetic makeup. This coincided with the expansion of humanity into space. Inevitably, war happened. What the exact reason for fighting or who fought who is lost to time. In fact, no one rally even knows if they are over or still ongoing. Due to the genetic quest to find the perfect soldier, the conflicts that arose came to be known as the Gene Wars.

The planet that is now know as Ur is the site of a major space battle took place during the Gene Wars. Scores of damaged ships crash landed on Ur, bringing with them humanity, technology, and a menagerie of genetically engineered monsters. The space battle look place generations ago, and its significance is lost on all those who have descended from the survivors. However, the crash sites remain and there are still technologies and treasures of a much more advanced society still riddling the landscape.

Ur is now a planet of many races and monsters. Individuals from each generation rise up to brave the wilderness to find treasures and monsters at crash sites of the spaceships damaged from that long-forgotten battle.

I already have a collection of monsters I would deem MF/GW-worthy organized into three broad categories: Machine, Mutant and Alien. I would need to stat up some more classes/races: Mutants, Clones and Purebred Humans.

Thus, the final project in all this would include:

  • Humans
  • Dwarves
  • Elves
  • Halflings
  • MMII Elves
  • MMII Dwarves
  • Mongrelmen
  • Ursani
  • Tengi
  • Tabaxi
  • Mutants
  • Clones
  • Purebred Humans

In addition, it would contain all the monsters from SWCL, Swords & Shapeshifters, Fiends & Falchions as well as 30 more that fit in the MF/GW mold.

I can even imagine future/alien technology being described in terms of extant magic items from SWCL. For example:

Plasma Gun: Functions as a Magic Wand (Magic Missile usable 3 x a day); however, rather than being limited to the Magic-user class, it is usable by anyone but requires a Save to activate. 
Grenades: Function as a Scroll, but (again) usable by anyone but requires a Save to activate. Thus, you could have a Stun Grenade (Hold Person spell).

Or, should I just do up another Alternate Version of SWCL that just encompasses MF/GW and let folks mix and match as they wish?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Advanced Edition SWCL

One of my favorite (if not the favorite) retro-clones is Labyrinth Lord. As I have said on many occasions, the reason I like it so much is its modularity. Goblinoid Games has produced a whole line of compatible titles from different genres so that you can port into your game whatever ideas, races, classes, magic, items, etc. you want. In terms of playing AD&D, Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion is my favorite version because it gets rid of all the fiddly stuff I don’t like about 1e and smooths out the corners with all the stuff I love about B/X.

I have been busy of late making alternate versions of SWCL and I thought it would be fun to do an Advanced Edition treatment to the rules. The questions becomes, what exactly is missing from SWCL that would justify an “Advanced Edition?” Here are a few ideas:

  • Gnomes
  • Half-Elves
  • Half-Orcs
  • Illusionists
  • “Gygaxian” Monsters
  • Artifact/Relic-like Magic Items
  • Ability Inflation

In terms of the missing races, I want to take advantage of Moldvay’s description of Gnomes:
Gnomes are a human-like race related to dwarves
Sounds a bit like a half-dwarf. Thus, all the missing races can be understood to be half-bloods. As such, they can be any class just like their human parent; however, they don’t get the full-blown the racial abilities of their non-human parent. Rather, they get to advance in one of the Optional Classes without having to put in an extra adventure every level to advance. The Optional Classes would be as follows:

  • Half-Elf: Ranger
  • Half-Orc: Assassin
  • Gnome (Half-Dwarf): Illusionist

Speaking of the Illusionist Optional Class, we need to make one:
Illusionists function exactly as Thieves, except they can cast a limited number of Magic-user spells as if they were a magic-user of one level lower. The spells Illusionists can cast are as follows:
1st Level: Charm Person, Detect Magic, Light
2nd Level: Illusion, Invisibility
3rd Level: Dispel Magic, Summon (Illusory) Monster
By “Gygaxian” Monsters, I mean those monsters that suggest a monster ecology. For example, Hobgoblins can speak the language of carnivorous apes and these creatures can be found in Hobgoblin lairs. Therefore, the plan is to find 10 or so monsters that can interact with the monsters provided in SWCL to create more "Gygaxian" monster ecologies.

The Magic Items in SWCL are wonderfully simple and generic. The Magic Items of AD&D are often quite specific. For example: Sword +1 Flame Tongue +2 vs. regenerating creatures, +3 vs. cold-using or avian creatures, +4 vs. undead. What I am suggesting is that rather than introduce Hand of Vecna-level magical artifacts to the game, add some of those wonderfully specific magic items found in the 1e DMG as one-of-a-kind magic items worthy of going on a quest for.

Finally, for me, one of the most iconic aspects of AD&D (and one of its most ridiculous features) was exceptional Strength: all those fighters running around with 18/xx Strength. I have no real desire to go there; however, something must be done to encourage and reward players for being human, otherwise there are no human rangers, assassins, illusionists, etc. Thus, the Optional Rule that humans get to switch out their lowest stat with a 15 will become standard.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fiends & Falchions (SWCL)

Well, my latest alternate version of Swords & Wizardry Continual Light is finished, but this one feels different. It is SWCL. It is D&D stripped down to its essentials. Yet, it isn't.

I'll be interested to hear folk's impressions as they read this. Again, I really haven't done much to the nuts and bolts of SWCL, so I am curious if this reads any different for you.

As per usual, I have done my best to edit out typos and errors, but I am sure there are several riddled throughout that have gotten past these efforts. Please also consider this a thread for pointing out these errors. Thank you.

In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys! You can find the link here.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

FF Monsters and SWCL Part 2

Back when I first started looking into the FF seriously, I made the observation that the number of monster entries per page was significantly lower than the MMI. I chalked it up to the growing complexity of D&D and its inevitable crawl towards the rules-heavy editions to come. I also admitted that, despite being my favorite of all the early monster collections, there were a number of monsters I’d never used specifically because of the verbose entires and all the little fiddly bits associated with these creatures.

Now that I am actually converting a selection of FF creatures to SWCL, I find myself struggling to keep the texts describing several of these monsters short. Of course, by “short” I mean the one sentence descriptions that characterize so many of the creatures in SWCL. For example:
Zombie
AC: 8[11] HD: 2 Attacks: +2, slam (1d6) Move: 6 Special: Undead
Shambling corpses who crave the blood and brains of the living.
Compare that to a similar HD undead creature that I’ve endeavored to convert from the FF:
Huecuva
AC: 2[17] HD: 2
Attacks: +2, claw (1d4) Move: 6
Special: Undead; Immune to Normal Weapons; Disease; Spellcasting; Vulnerable to Silver
Robed, worm-eaten walking corpses can cast Illusion on themselves three times a day to appear to be normal. When hit, victims must make a Save or get a diseased that prevents all magical healing until the victim receives a Cure Condition spell. Huecuva take +1 damage from silver weapons.
Note that I have seriously trimmed this down from its original and even from its simplified version in the S&W edition of Tome of Horrors Complete.

To put this more concretely, SWCL averages 6 monster entries per page. When I put together Swords & Shapeshifters, I managed to get 7 monster entries per page. I am guesstimating that I’ll be around 4 entires per page when I am done typesetting my FF version of SWCL.

It's fascinating that, despite my efforts at finding the simplest way to present these monsters, I am finding myself following in the footsteps of Don Turnbull and company. I am writing verbose monster descriptions and I am beginning to understand why.

The monsters that inhabit both SWCL and MMI are largely creatures that pervade our cultural consciousness. Even if someone who doesn’t play D&D or has never read Tolkien will still have an idea of what an orc is. Certainly the word “zombie” needs little to no description at all.

In contrast, the FF is full of creatures that the average person may have never heard of before. Huecuva certainly falls into this category. Whereas I can assume most people will be able to fill in the blanks when it comes to goblins, orcs and zombies, I can’t when it comes to creatures like the huecuva, volt and even the somewhat familiar flind.

In retrospect, this may be what has so powerfully drawn me towards the FF: there are very little cultural preconceptions about the creatures found in its pages. Therefore, I am more free to expect more of what I want from them than I ever could from an orc.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Joannicius the Great

Today is the Feast of Joannicius the Great. He was born in A.D. 752 in Bithynia (in modern-day Turkey) to faithful but very poor parents. Their only wealth was some cattle, which Joanicius would tend, often using it as a means of prayer and using the Sign of the Cross to ward away both beast and thief.

When emperor Leo IV came to power in A.D. 775, he instituted a draft and Joannicius was chosen from his village to serve. He did so with bravery and earned the respect of his fellow soldiers. He was rewarded more than once by both his commanders and the emperor himself for striking fear into the hearts of his enemy. He served in the military for six years, but he knew that the life of a soldier was not his calling.

When he was able to leave the imperial army he wanted to become a hermit, but at the direction of a spiritual elder, he spent a couple of years in a monastery to learn the monastic life. He then went into the wilderness to finally become a hermit. He spent time with other monastics saints, became known as a miracle worker and finally retired to Antidiev monastery were he died at the age of 94 in A.D. 846.



From the perspective of RPGs, I find the life of St. Joannicius fascinating because it demonstrates how grounded in reality the character creation system of Classic Traveller is, one of my favorite subsystems of any RPG in existence. Though he is famous for being a hermit, along the way he was, for lack of a better term, a cattle rancher, a soldier and a monk. If he were an RPG character, his character creation process would have gone through a couple of careers, garnered a wide variety of skills prior to becoming an adventurer (a hermit wandering the Wilderness).

The closest to this idea that I have ever seen in FRPGs is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game; however, the career changes happen as part of character advancement, not as a precursor to becoming an adventurer. A close second is the 0-level character concept that I first encountered in Goodman Games modules like DCC35A: Halls of the Minotaur. Neither of these, though, scratch the itch for a Classic Traveller-esque mini-game of character creation.

In the ACKS Players Companion there might just be a foundation upon which to build one for B/X. Therein is a section called Custom Classes which reverse engineered all the B/X classes to come up with a system to build campaign-specific classes with all variety of possibilities. A character gets a total of 4 points to spend on Hit Point Value, Fighting Value, Thieving Value, Divine Value and Arcane Value. Certain aspects of these can be traded in for special abilities which can further be expanded if they are delayed across levels.

Using these concepts, it might just be possible to create a series of tables to, like Classic Traveller, create a fantasy character, their life prior to becoming adventurer and the skills/abilities that they picked up along the way.

This is where I must disappoint. I don’t have the time or energy to put something like this together at the moment; however, I am going to bookmark this idea and come back to it at some point. Or, maybe someone else can have a go…

Friday, November 3, 2017

FF Monsters and SWCL

I am in process of converting a bunch of FF monsters to SWCL and it is actually kind of a fascinating process, assuming that one can only use the FF as a source (which I am). Besides the various systemic differences (which, to be honest, are really just figuring out ways to trim down the mechanics to their most elegant simplicity) I am facing three larger issues:

  1. Non-OGL monsters. One of the most iconic monsters of the FF (the Githyanki) and one of my favorite (and criminally under-utilized) monsters (the Slaad) are non-OGL and therefore have to be re-imagined in ways that feel familiar but, for legal reasons, are different.
  2. References to creature outside the FF. The best example of this is the Flind. These are a special type of Gnoll, which don’t exist within the confines of the FF. To a lesser extent, this is also an issue with the Githyanki because their lore so heavily relies upon the Mind-Flayer, which not only doesn’t exist within the confines of the FF, but are also non-OGL.
  3. There are about 160 monster entries in the FF. Due to the scope of SWCL, that number needs to be trimmed to about 30 and those 30 need to present something that resembles a cohesive science-fantasy world-view.

The first is actually probably the easiest of the three to solve because I have already treaded these waters before. I have a collection of monsters I used when I wrote The Caves of Cormikir, which was my version of B2:The Keep on the Borderlands that conceptually would have been part of the Basic D&D boxed set had the FF been the source of all the monsters. I also have my own version of the Githyanki that I have used for years in my Lost Colonies campaign.

Nonetheless, I still have to cut out the creature references from sources outside of the FF. There are two main ways I plan to do that:

In the case of the Flind, being described as hyena-men gives me leeway to create an entire class of monsters called “Beastmen” of which the Flind is a type. This then gives me the freedom to re-skin virtually all the of various humanoid monsters as some variation of the “beastman type.” Bullywugs become frogmen. Kuo-Toa become fishmen. Grimlocks become molemen, etc. This also allows me to re-skin Flinds, Ogrillons and Lizard Kings as exceptional types that exist within all variations of beastmen.

The second main strategy is to re-write the narrative behind the Githyanki (Sons of Cyn). Rather than their ancient conflict being with the Illithid, that conflict will be with the Slaad. Since the the number if demons and devils in the FF is rather sparse and since their really is no significant difference between Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Evil in my book, the Slaad will also be a nice stand-in for demons and devils (I’ll call them Fiends of Entropy as a little nod to the title of FF).

This conflict, rather than happening across various planes of Gygax’s cosmology, happens, for lack of a better phrase, in the Prime Material Plane. As a consequence, creation itself has begun to rebel. This is the origin of things like dragons, who are more personifications of elemental forces than a traditional D&D dragon. Since FF dragons are “Oriental” I’ll use the five-point Asian elemental system rather than the four-point European. This will give a framework from which to understand all of the creatures I choose: they have evolved out of this greater conflict between the Sons of Cyn and the Fiends of Entropy.

This, then, gives me a criteria to trim the fat, as it were. If I can’t see a way to include a creature in these two frameworks (beastmen and the conflict between the Sons of Cyn and the Fiends of Entropy), I just won’t include it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

SWCL + FF

Long before I ever went through the Monster Manual 2 to see what would happen to B/X if the only monsters available to Moldvay came from the MMII, I did the very same thought experiment with my personal favorite the Fiend Folio. Since I have already produced a version of SWCL that uses only MMII monsters, I thought I'd do the same with the monsters of the Fiend Folio. So, as a preview, here is the cover art:


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Swords & Shapeshifters (SWCL)

Since I couldn't really think of anything to write about St. Stephen the Sabaite on his Feast Day, I decided to do as much as I could to finish up my alternate version of Swords & Wizardry Continual Light in his honor.


As per usual with a hobbyist like myself, I am sure there are several typos and errors riddled throughout. Consider this a thread for pointing out these errors. Thank you.

In the meantime, you can download it here. Enjoy!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Half-Elves for SWCL

One of the ideas from 0e that I truly find fascinating is the idea that elves can adventure as fighters and magic-users, they must do so one class at a time. Unlike later editions of the game, they don’t get to be armor-clad spell caster. This idea re-surfaced in the retro-clones Swords & Wizardry White Box and Labyrinth Lord Original Edition Characters, but not in main version of those games. SWCL splits the difference in the fact that elves only get to be one class: fighters, magic-users or thieves.

When it comes to demi-human races, my favorites are the half-breeds: half-orcs and half-elves. Something about the cultural, social and personal complications that these races imply has always fascinated me. Therefore, in order to get my 0e elf fix with SWCL, I propose the introduction of a new optional race: the half-elf.

The half-elf adventures as either a human or an elf. Each persona has its own class and its own racial abilities. The player chooses which persona to play at the beginning of each session. For example, a half-elf could adventure as a human cleric in one persona and an elven magic-user in the other.

Like all other characters, the half-elf can get a total of six level gains and each of these level gains requires the same number of adventures as other classes; however, the half-elf can gain a maximum of three levels in each of their two classes. Thus, the half-elf cleric/magic-user in our example above can only advance to be a 4th level human cleric and a 4th level elven magic-user.

Like the 0e elf, all class restrictions apply when adventuring in certain classes. Thus, when adventuring as a magic-user, the half-elf cannot wear any armor.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dave Arneson and SWCL

For those of you who have read this blog over the years, it should be no surprise that I am a huge fan of the Dave Arneson rule of 1 gp spent = 1 xp. In my experience, this motivates players to take ownership of the world their characters inhabit. For example, in my Lost Colonies campaigns the following places exist because players spent money to bring them into being:

Headwaters

  • A Tavern that specializes in stirge meat.
  • A cheese factory
  • A camel farm
  • A monastery and chapel
  • A stone and statue garden
  • An abandoned dwarven home

The Road from Headwaters to Trisagia

  • A stone toll bridge manned by half-giants

Trisagia

  • A merchant company the specializes in shipping

The Elflands

  • A cathedral with an illuminated text

Note that only the last one qualifies as a standard Stronghold in B/X terms. I really love this stuff because it enriches the campaign world in a way that I could never do purely on my own. These places have been adventure fodder and/or direct results of adventures. Each one has multiple stories attached to it. I firmly believe none of these would exist if it weren’t for Dave Arneson’s rule of 1 gp spent = 1 xp. As a consequence, whenever I run into a version of D&D that does not use it, I try to find an easy way to shoehorn it in.

Enter SWCL. I actually love the leveling mechanic of this game: complete a given number of sessions/adventures and you level. No math, no trying to assign experience value to non-combat encounters, just go on adventures and be done with it. This idea is so elegantly simple I am actually loathe to mess with it; however, I am also loathe to get rid of the incentive for players to invest in all of the kind of world-building goodness that the Arneson rule has produced in my games.

Thus, I propose an Optional Rule for SWLC:

In order for an adventure to be considered “complete,” a character must spend at least half of the treasure gained from that adventure.

Thus, if my character’s share of the booty is 20 gp because we overlooked the real treasure trove, I need to spend 10 gp to complete that adventure in terms of gaining levels. If that booty is 2000 gp (because we went back and found the hidden treasure chest) I now have to figure out a way to spend 1000 gp.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Gamer ADD: Swords & Wizardry Continual Light

As can be seen by my last couple of posts, I have been rather enthralled by Swords & Wizardry Continual Light. There is something rather intoxicating about its simplicity. The amount of flexibility that the system offers isn't necessarily missing from other versions of D&D and its clones, but SWCL just makes it so darn simple to pull off.

As a consequence, I am in the middle of putting together something I've wanted to do for about a year. I did a series last November in which I imagined a world where the Monster Manual II was the only source for monsters available to Moldvay when he edited Basic D&D. Despite the fact that the MMII is my least favorite creature catalog, the thought experiment resulted in a version of D&D I really want to play.

As a consequence, I've since wanted to take the frame of a retro-clone and produce a complete rule-set of a D&D game that only uses MMII monsters. Unfortunately, said task requires too much of my time and a number of editing decisions that make the project far more complicated than I have the energy for.

Enter Swords & Wizardry Continual Light. Here is a platform that makes this vision of a MMII-only game not only possible, but extremely doable. As a consequence, I am happily editing my own version of SWCL to reflect an MMII-only world. Layout should follow closely behind and the cover is already done:

Hopefully this will get done sooner rather than later.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Character Sheet for SWCL

One of the quibbles I have with Swords & Wizardry Continual Light is that it has a very boring character sheet. Fortunately, that is very easy to remedy:



You can download a copy here. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Hilarion the Great

Today is the Feast of St. Hilarion the Great. He was born in Gaza in Palestine to pagan parents who subsequently sent him to Alexandria (Egypt) for his education. There he encountered Christianity and was baptized. He also encountered stories of the Father of monasticism, St. Anthony the Great. Inspired, he decided to follow in Anthony’s footsteps and dedicated the rest of his life to asceticism.

As an aside, St. Athanasius the Great wrote the hagiography of St. Anthony which was translated into several languages. It inspired an entire generation of Christians after the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire to head off into the desert and follow the monastic life. I am always surprised by how inspiring this account of St. Anthony remains to Christians even in our modern age. I cannot recommend it enough.

St. Hilarion returned to his home in Gaza to find both his parents had passed away. He gave away all of their belongings and went into the desert. He was soon caught up in a fierce spiritual battle. There are accounts of demons that took the form of phantoms, crying children, wailing women and wild beasts. He endured through it all and became well known as an exorcist and healer. So popular was the saint that he had to flee, lest he be tempted by pride and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of those seeking his help.

Therefore, he became a wanderer, never staying long in any one place, healing and exorcising where ever he went. His journeys took him to Egypt, Libya, Sicily and finally to Cyprus where he passed away at the age of 80 in the year A.D. 372.



In St. Hilarion, we have part of the historical archetype of the D&D cleric. He is akin to a wandering adventurer who heals and fights off demons. It is easy to see in his story analogs to Turn Undead and such cleric spells as Detect Evil, Cure Light Wounds, Cure Disease and even Protection from Evil. I know that folks have argued that Clerics are not a good fit in D&D because we don’t have a literary archetype that fits the clerical mold, though I would counter with REH and Solomon Kane, and some would even go as far as to argue that we don’t have an historical archetype, either.

While St. Hilarion is not exactly a plate mail wearing, mace wielding warrior, neither are many of our favorite literary archetypes exact fits to D&D classes. Gandalf doesn’t cast flashy spells and carries a sword. What class, exactly is the Gray Mouser? or Fafhrd for that matter? In other words, as I have long argued, for those of us who love the class, clerics definitely belong in D&D.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Zero-Level Characters for SWCL

For those not already aware, Swords & Wizardry Continual Light dropped earlier this week. While I have a few quibbles (like the fact that there are monsters who can surprise on a 1-3 on a d6 and Thieves can backstab surprised opponents but there are no rules for surprise in the combat section), I really like this ruleset. It elegantly boils down D&D to its essence with as few rules as possible and still presents an immensely satisfying game.

I think my favorite part of the entire ruleset is the way it handles Optional Classes like the Ranger and the Monk. They play exactly like one of the four core classes: Fighter, Cleric, Magic-user or Thief, with an extra ability tacked on. The price a player pays for this ability is a slower level progression. Since experience is handled by the number of sessions played, the optional classes simply add an extra session to each level. Brilliant!

What I love the most about the way SWCL handles these Optional Classes is that it provides a very simple way to create world-specific classes that add a lot of color to the campaign without a lot of a lot of mechanics: take one of the four core classes, tack on a special ability and you are good to go!

Thus inspired, I decided to take the rough idea of zero-level characters that I mused about in my last post and applied the mechanical elegance of SWLC to produce a supplement that provides players and referees of SWLC a way to use zero-level characters to bring some life, depth and background to the characters that inhabit their campaigns.

Art by Joyce Maureira

You can download it here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Cosmas the Composer and Melodist

Today is the feast of St. Cosmas the Composer and Melodist who was not only a contemporary of St. John of Damascus (a famous 7th-8th century saint who wrote against iconoclasm) but was an adopted member of the family. He was elected bishop in the 8th century to a coastal city in Palestine. He was also an excellent hymnographer. Among his many compositions are two Canons that are still sung in the Orthodox Church today: the Canon of the Cross and the Canon for the Nativity of Christ.


Earlier this week, when I looked ahead to see who the saint was for today, I was left with a very tough question: What to do with a hymnographer? It is a reminder that D&D (and most RPGs, for that matter) don’t really have a place for someone like St. Cosmas. Yes, the argument can be made that he represents a Christian version of a Bard, but, not only do I not really like virtually any iteration of that class, I don’t think any version can easily be re-skinned to fit a St. Cosmas.

This leads me to a bit of Gamer ADD I have been suffering from lately. I’ve been distracted by Warhammer Fantasy RPG, the Mithgarthr “retro-clone” of 5e and Swords & Wizardry Continual Light. While absorbing so much awesome, my brain came up with an interesting challenge that I think answers the “problem” of St. Cosmas better than simply calling him a Bard:

Knowing what I know today in October 2017, what if I suddenly found myself back in the late 80s at the beginning of the end for TSR when my friends and I started drifting away from D&D? What would I do to modify D&D to make it enticing enough for my friends and I to continue to play realizing that I would have no access to the huge library of .pdfs and books that I have now? What resources could I use?

The first thing that came to mind is the idea of a 0-level character. Not only do I love this idea, but my friends probably would have as well because we reveled in the challenge of low-level play. I owned the 1st edition of Warhammer Fantasy RPG and it has an awesome list of careers that a potential 0-level character could come from.

Secondly, my friends did like the idea of the proficiency system that was being developed in books like Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures. Why not take some of the skills from the Thief class, some of the skills from WFRP and use them in the broad sense suggested by both WFRP and 5e where each characteristic gets several skills associated with it?

Finally, this all has to exist on a random table that also allows for some customization. Therefore, each career would have the ability to move around some ability scores and a choice of skills to specialize in.

Here is a rough draft of what that might look like (Roll a d12):

  1. Alchemists’ Apprentice Skills: Craft, Medicine, Open Locks; Characteristic: INT
  2. Entertainer Skills: Blather, Perform, Sleight of Hand; Characteristic: CHA
  3. Herbalist Skills: Lore, Medicine, Sleight of Hand; Characteristic: WIS
  4. Initiate Skills: Blather, Etiquette, Read Languages; Characteristic: CHA
  5. Laborer Skills: Craft, Consume Alcohol, Open Locks; Characteristic: DEX
  6. Outlaw Skills: Climb Walls, Intimidate, Stealth; Characteristic: STR
  7. Rat-Catcher Skills: Animal Handling, Hunt, Swim; Characteristic: CON
  8. Sailor Skills: Climb Walls, Navigate, Swim; Characteristic: STR
  9. Scribe Skills: Lore, Read Languages, Stealth; Characteristic: INT
  10. Soldier Skills: Consume Alcohol, Intimidate, Hear Noise; Characteristic: DEX
  11. Squire Skills: Animal Handling, Etiquette, Perform; Characteristic: CON
  12. Woodsman Skills: Hear Noise, Hunt, Navigate; Characteristic: WIS

Skills: Players can try to justify doing anything under the pretense of a skill. PCs can automatically succeed at the DM’s discretion. Any character can use any skill at a base success rate of 1 in 6. Each career offers three skills that can be specialized in. The player prioritizes these specializations at character creation. At 0-level these three skills have a base success rate of 9+, 12+ and 15+ on a d20. As a character gains levels, these chances improve by 1 per level (8+, 11+, 14+ at 1st level). A roll of ‘1’ always fails

Each specialization is associated with a characteristic. The bonus or penalty of that characteristic can be applied to a roll with a specialization (but not to the generic 1 in 6 chance):

STR: Climb Walls, Intimidate, Swim
INT: Craft, Lore, Read Languages
WIS: Hear Noise, Medicine, Navigate
CON: Animal Handling, Consume Alcohol, Hunt
DEX: Open Locks, Sleight of Hand, Stealth
CHA: Blather, Etiquette, Permform

Characteristic: Each career can rearrange their starting characteristics (rolled in order) by taking the highestt roll and switching with the Characteristic associated with the career. For example: an Initiate with STR 10, INT 7, WIS 15, DEX 17, CON 10, CHA 8 can switch out their DEX and CHA scores so that the characteristics look like this: STR 10, INT 7, WIS 15, DEX 8, CON 10, CHA 17
Once a character reaches 1st level and chooses a class, these characteristics may be further adjusted according to the rules in Basic D&D.

Each PC would fight as a 0-level human with d4 hit points. 1st-level would be attained after one adventure.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Saintly Saturday: Sts. Sergius and Bacchus the Great Martyrs of Syria

Today is the feast of Sts. Sergius & Bacchus the Great Martyrs of Syria. The Roman Emperor Maximian (A.D. 284-305) appointed these two saints to high positions in his army, ignorant of the fact that they were Christians. The saints were subsequently accused of refusing to sacrifice to the idols by those envious of these positions. The two were arrested and, of course, confirmed their refusal.

As a consequence, they were stripped of their military insignia, stripped of their clothing, dressed as women and paraded through the city streets in mockery. Afterwards they were tortured. Bacchus died by scourging and Sergius was beheaded after being placed in iron sandals with nails in the soles.



This story reminds me of several folks I have encountered in my dialogues about religion that simultaneously criticize Christianity for its cruelties and romanticize various forms of paganism. When we romanticize things, we tend to fall into the trap of anachronism — we impose our own modern values onto something from the past that cannot have possibly been associated with those values.

Today, transgenderism is a hot topic and here we have pagan Rome dressing up men in woman’s clothing as a punishment, demonstrating the large disconnect between the most current modern value fad and ancient pagan values.

While some may quibble or be downright offended by my use of the word “fad” in context of transgenderism, I insist upon it because our political class has fetishized the concept to the point where we can’t actually deal with transgenders as people because they are being used as an excuse to inflame political debate.

I am also reminded of the various old-school cursed magic items that would permanently change the sex of its user as well as the various Reincarnation spell tables that bring back dead characters as anything from badgers to trolls. Believe it or not, as a Christian I actually like these aspects of old-school gaming.

Recently, I have been involved locally with dialogues on the topic of racism. I keep running into the fallacy that people cannot understand what it’s like to be ‘X,’ completely ignoring the old adage that we should walk a mile in another man’s shoes. In their own way, RPGs allow us to walk that mile. We get an opportunity to experiment with ideas and thought processes that are not entirely our own.

As a player, one of the most magical moments I experience in play is when my character insists on doing something that I would not. It is precisely in these moments that characters come alive and I get to experience wearing those shoes.

As a Christian, this is an extremely important exercise, because it ultimately makes it easier to see the image and likeness of God in others. If I can empathize with others and understand why they do and think what they do and think I can see them as people rather than a political tool used to gain and maintain power.

***

This all made me think of an interesting twist on the concept of the Elven Boot and Elven Cloak. Rather than aiding the wearer in being sneaky, these items endow the wearer with the ability to adventure as another class in the same way that Elves in 0e would choose to be either a Magic-user or a Fighter before each adventure, earning experience only in that class. Thus, there could be three different types of boots/cloaks: Fighter, Magic-user and Thief (elves don’t really do the Cleric thing). As long as the character is wearing the Elven Boot/Cloak they can adventure as and gain experience in the class associated with the item. Should the item ever be lost or destroyed, the character loses all those XP and abilities.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On Vitriol Revisited

A few years ago, I blogged about a conflict that arose in our little corner of the internet. I called it On Vitriol and those posts can be found here. Fair warning: I don’t know how successful those posts were. While they did provoke some thought, they also offended people.

Recently, there has been another conflict in our space that folks are concerned enough about that they’ve publicly blogged about conflict resolution and how to get through this most resent clash with as little damage as possible. Therefore, I thought it might be useful to revisit some of the ideas that I tried to communicate with my posts On Vitriol.

Before I go further, I need to make this clear: I have no real skin in this game. I am not active on G+ (where, evidently this conflict has had the most impact) and besides a couple of posts on blogs I frequent, I would have lived life without being aware of this conflict and it would likely have had (or even have) little effect on my gaming life (such as it is). Therefore, I am not particularly interested in the personalities involved and I don’t intend to impugn or defend anyone.

This post is intended to be about ideas, not the specific people directly involved in the current conflict (although, ultimately, this is about people in general). I will be linking to some posts where these ideas happen to appear, but this is to give folks an opportunity to see these ideas in context not an endorsement or condemnation of the people who posted these ideas.

Having said that, I want to pull three quotes that I find particularly interesting:
Those seeking justice often have to organize allies in order to force contact and conversation, negotiation. Trying to create communication is almost always the uphill struggle of the falsely blamed. And entire movements are structured around the goal of forcing one party to face the reality of the other, and thereby face themselves. — Sarah Schulman (link here)
What we need now, in our political leaders, in our communities, in our lives is humility. Have the humility to know that you don't have all the answers. Have the humility to know when to stop obsessing about something. — Greg C. (Link here)
The content objectives followed one rule: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Post what you're working on already, not something designed specifically for posting, and don't worry about whether it's perfect. — Matt Finch (Link here)
Assuming that these three ideas exist in a post-Christian/secular/ atheist context, the only one that has any legs is Sarah’s. Notice that her’s is the only one that deals with power structures and the force necessary to move power. In the face of power and force, humility and the concept of good have no real use or value.

This exposes one of the great weaknesses of a post-Christian/ secular/atheist society: it is very vulnerable to authoritarian and totalitarian impulses. While Sarah couches her argument in justice, the defense of those who are falsely accused and those who are outside of power structures, this model ignores the possibility of those in power framing themselves as the falsely accused and framing those outside of power as the ones making the false accusations and the injustice of it all. This strategy has been used multiple times throughout history to solidify extant power structures. For example: Stalin and the bourgeoisie, Mao and Western cultural influences, Pol Pot and the intelligentsia and Hitler and the Jews.

Within the space that we occupy in communities on the internet, power is not primarily derived from physical force as it is in the (admittedly) extreme examples I mentioned above. Rather, we deal in reputation and influence. One has power based on the number of followers/readers/clicks they have and the number of ups/retweets/shares they get. Thus, when there is conflict it targets these power structures. As a consequence, it can get very nasty indeed. The most effective means of reducing someone’s power on the internet is to destroy their reputation and/or destroy their influence.

Internet fights usually involve exposing nasty details of an opponent’s personality to ruin reputations and bullying and harassing to reduce the amount of time and energy the opponent actually spends on-line. I don’t think anyone can disagree that this is the world we live in. Indeed, I would argue that we got Trump because the folks who had put so much value in humility and in the concept of good realized that these had no value in our post-Christian/secular/atheist world and so turned to someone who knows how to wield power in the Twitter-verse. As a consequence, our society is in process of shedding any vestige of civility.

If we are interested in placing value on humility, goodness or anything other than power then we need to start acknowledging the value of a Christian culture. Please note: I am not advocating for people to become Christians (although that would be nice), just that they acknowledge that having the idea of a Christian God is important, even vital, to a free and functioning society. I am also aware that Christians are just as capable as anyone else of abusing power; however, even just having the notion that the Christian God is a good idea helps place value on things like humility and goodness.

The Trinitarian God of Christianity is a relational being (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who loves human beings to such an extent that, in the person of the Son, He willingly became a human being in order to be tortured and killed so that He could share Himself with us. Since this same God created us according to His image and likeness, there is intrinsic value (goodness) in imitating Him in order to become like Him and fulfill the potential of that image and likeness. Thus, even in the face of power, standards like humility and goodness still have value because these things not only come from God, but are demonstrated by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

However, within the context of our own online community, the most important implication of the Trinitarian image and likeness is that of relationship. If God is a relational being and we are made according to His image and likeness, than we are also meant to be relational beings. This also goes beyond merely being friends with those with whom we agree. God is a radical other. His being is so different from ours that we cannot hope to be able to ever comprehend it. Yet, He took on our humanity to Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Thus, if we are to strive to fulfill God’s image and likeness in ourselves, we must strive to be in fruitful relationships with those who are radically different than us: not only those who look and act differently than we do, but those with whom we disagree.

In this context, power becomes largely meaningless and values like humility and goodness not only become important but manifest in us.

Thus, I humbly ask, that we allow God back in, even if only as an idea.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia

Today is the Feast of St. Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia. He was born in the middle of the third century A.D. His father, Anak, was part of a plot to take Armenian throne. He killed his kinsman Kursar but the plot failed. As a consequence, he and his entire line were sentenced to death. Gregory, however, was secreted out and was raised in Cappadocia as a Christian.

He married, had two children and was widowed. Impelled to atone for the sins of his father, he decided to enter into the service of Kursar’s son, Tiridates. When it was discovered that Gregory was a Christian, he was tortured in various and heinous ways, but was steadfast through it all. At one point, he was thrown into a pit full of vipers. Thinking that was his end, his torturers left him for dead; however, the snakes did him no harm and for fourteen years he endured with the help of certain pious widows, who would lower bread into the pit.

When it was revealed to Tiridates that Gregory still lived, he was released. Through his faith and preaching, the Armenians became Christian, including Tiridates. St. Gregory was ordained bishop and reposed in peace about the year A.D. 325.


This story opens up the possibility of an interesting twist on the Abandoned Monastery Trope found in so many dungeon adventures: rather than a collection of caves or cells, the monastery would be filled with snake pits. This, of course, opens up all kinds of interesting themed ideas with creature favorites like yuan-ti and ophidians.

It also brings up the famous verse from Mark:
And these signs shall follow them that believe…They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover (16:17-18).
This suggests an interesting variation on the Cleric class for those who are raised around or are part of a snake-pit monastery. Instead of being able to Turn Undead the Cleric gains the following abilities:

  • Immunity to Poison (even magical poison)
  • Snake Companion: This companion is an intelligent and loyal creature that always has 1/2 the HD of the Cleric. The two can always understand each other (a Speak to Animals spell is necessary for anyone else to speak with the snake). The snake also has a special ability depending upon whether the snake is a constrictor or a viper. If it is a constrictor, it can Lay on Hands (Scales?) and heal up to 2hp per level of the Cleric. If it is a viper, it can cast a Neutralize Poison spell once per day; however, this spell does require 1 full turn to cast. Both of these abilities require that the snake be within 30 feet of the Cleric to use. Should the snake companion ever be killed, the Cleric immediately loses a number of hit points equal to that of the companion and it cannot be replaced until the cleric gains a level.

In all other respects, these “Snake-pit” Clerics are the same as normal Clerics.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Spaceship Map

Well, I just finished a week sans wife taking care of the kids by my lonesome. Thus, blogging became a very low priority; however, I do want to share the fact that I am working on an introductory adventure for Star Lite. Here is the map, enjoy!


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Saint Saturday: The Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna

Today is the Feast of the Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna. The title “Ancestors of God” is a title derived from the fact that they are the parents of the Virgin Mary. During the Christological controversies that arose during the 4th to 8th centuries, she received the title “Theotokos” which literally means “The Mother of God.” This all has more to do with Christ than Mary or her parents because both titles (Ancestors of God and Theotokos) speak to the fact that Christ is both God and Man from conception and thus speaks about the nature of Christ rather than anything about His mother or grandparents.

For those who know their Scripture, Joachim and Anna are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. Their story, and the story of the Nativity of the Theotokos (which was yesterday) appears in the Protoevangelium of James, a book known by most to be apocryphal. This, however, is a misnomer. There are many popular, early Christian writings that do not appear in the Bible because they either do not focus on the main point of the New Testament (Christ, HIs crucifixion and His resurrection) or are too far removed from the Apostles to be included. This can be seen in the fact that several of the Mariological feasts of the Orthodox Church refer to events in the Protoevangelium of James in the hymns surrounding these feasts.

Joachim and Anna were old when they had Mary. Anna was barren and beyond child-bearing years when she miraculously got pregnant. This is another reason that these stories have not been rejected by the Orthodox Church: it follows a pattern found all over Scripture. Women in both the OT and NT who are barren and beyond child bearing years find themselves pregnant through the workings of God.



This highlights something that is largely lost on the modern world: women’s real power derives from their ability to bear children. Take a look at this hymn:
Both Joachim and Anna from their sterility's stigma, and Adam and Eve from their mortality's ruin have been set free, O immaculate Maid, by your holy nativity. For this do your people hold celebration, redeemed from the guilt of transgression as they cry to you, "The barren one bears the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life.”
While this hymn magnanimously lumps Joachim in with Anna’s failure to bear children, it was primarily her shame as revealed in the last line where she is called “the barren one.”

Also missed by the modern world is the power women derive from chastity — the ability to manipulate men who want to have children by them. This power is emphasized by the fact that Theotokos is called Virgin before, during and after childbirth. The birth of Christ does not bring with it corruption (the physical damage that happens to women who go through childbirth).

This offers some interesting fodder for world-building in a fantasy setting. There is a fantasy trope that ties spell-casting and prophecy with women and virginity. Those who have these powers lose them when they lose their virginity. This suggests a world where spontaneous arcane Vacian-like spell casting is only available to women who still have their virginity. Ritual magic can still be used by men and by all women and suggests the import of scrolls, wands, staves, potions and my interpretation of Magic Missile according to Holmes. Speaking of Holmes, his rules that 1st level magic-users can create scrolls becomes a model rather than an exception. This also explains why adventuring is incentivized: arcane spell casters need the various components necessary to create magic items.

This understanding of arcane magic gives us leeway to make a starker difference between it and divine magic. Whereas the arcane is about ritual, magic devices and the need to be a female virgin to spontaneously cast, divine magic can forgo all of these things and offer spontaneous casting to anyone who takes on the mantel of “cleric.” This works especially well in context of a Christian/pseudo-Christian Church.

Christ offers a radical equality to the world: His Body and Blood. With this brings a forgiveness of sin (that which separates us from God). Thus, corruption in context of wielding magic is healed and the mechanism for magic is the Holy Spirit rather than the innate power of the human body.

Thus, the contrast, conflict and choice of arcane vs. divine magic largely pivots upon magic items vs. spontaneous casting if you don’t want to play a female virgin.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Star Lite UPDATED

In my last post, I didn't receive much feedback as to how to edit my Star Frontiers + Swords & Wizardry Light Mash-Up, so I am going with the easier of the two routes and going with a system that needs a little more work by the end-user to convert to other systems. Therefore, I give you:

 
You can download a copy here (this link has been updated).

I have also done up a half-sheet Character Sheet for those interested:


It can be downloaded as a .pdf here.

Please consider this post an open thread on thoughts, criticisms, problems, etc.

Enjoy!

UPDATE: As I mentioned in the comments, once you release something into the public, all kinds of mistakes suddenly become visible that weren't before. Thanks to porphyre77 for pointing out a misspelling that was not caught by the spell-check and for suggesting a different font. I normally use the fonts I do in all the stuff I make for myself because not only do I find them pleasing to the eye, but they remind me of two of my greatest literary influences: HPL and CAS; however, I can understand how in this application it might not be the best choice for everyone. Therefore, for those who would prefer a font choice more reminiscent of the 1970s and the roots of our hobby I present to you a second layout with a few changes for space which can be found here.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Mammas the Martyr

Today is the Feast of St. Mammas the Martyr. He was from Gangra of Paphlagonia, which is the north-central part of modern-day Turkey. His parents (Sts. Theodotus and Rufina) were both Christian and thrown in jail during the third century persecutions. His mother was pregnant and gave birth in prison just prior to her martyrdom. Having survived this ordeal, St. Mamas was adopted by a rich Christian widow by the name of Ammia. Therefore, he grew up in the faith.

He was arrested at the age of 15 and after being tortured was rescued by an angel and sent to the wilderness. There, he built a church and attracted many wild animals as his companions. When his whereabouts were discovered, soldiers were sent to arrest him. Knowing his martyrdom was soon at hand, he voluntarily showed up at the gates of Caesaria with a lion that had been his constant companion in the wilderness.

He was tortured and eventually mortally wounded by a trident.

Note how this icon depicts St. Mammas
holding a lamb while riding the lion,
which calls to mind this passage from Isaiah:
 
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, 
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, 
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them (11:6)

St. Mammas is a reminder that despite the popular depiction of environmental issues as outside the purview of Christianity and of nature-oriented classes as essentially pagan, one of the core missions of the Church is the sanctification of all creation. Therefore, classes like the Druid need not be understood as the pagan counterpart to the Christian cleric. Indeed, (as much as I personally don’t like the class), it makes more sense to me to have the Druid class operate under the umbrella of a fantasy version of Christianity. Arcane magic is a more natural fit for depicting the pagan counterpart of the divine magic of the Church.

It also serves as a reminder that even this can be re-skinned in Christian clothing:



Beast Master


Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: STR and WIS
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14
Beast Masters are those gifted with a special relationship with animals. They can Speak With Animals at will, are able to identify flora and fauna on a 1-3 on a d6, have a +2 to all reaction rolls with normal animals, may take animals as henchman and have a special animal companion. This companion is an intelligent and loyal creature that always has 1/2 the HD of the beast master, can always understand the beast master and provides a +1 to all saving throws to the beast master as long as it is within 30 ft. Should the animal companion ever be killed, the beast master immediately loses a number of hit points equal to that of the companion and it cannot be replaced until the beast master gains a level.

Beast Masters fight and save as fighters, may wear chain or lighter armor may use any weapon except for two-handed melee weapons and can cast spells as a Druid of 5 levels lower.
Level…XP Needed
1…0
2…2050
3…4100
4…8200
5…16,400
6…32,800
7…65,000
8…130,000
9…250,000
10…370,000
11…490,000
12…610,000
13…730,000
14…850,000

Monday, August 28, 2017

Star Lite Rough Draft

So, I have settled on a name for my SF + SWL Mash-up: Star Lite. I type-set it and mocked it up on some thick stock paper so that it can stand and double as a Referee Screen:


At this stage, I am proof-reading to make sure this is clean as possible before I send it out into the ether to let folks do what they will with it. I am also at a bit of a cross-roads in terms of how I want to release this. I can proof in one of two directions: make it OGL-friendly or avoid any association with the OGL at all.

In truth, I have been keeping the latter as my default position, following in the footsteps of Kevin Crawford of Stars Without Number fame. There are a couple of phrases I need to edit to make me feel more comfortable doing so, but it will be the easier of the two routes and the one that would be the more complete game.

I am looking to keep this to a four page document so that anyone can do what I have done above with just a tad bit of effort. If I go the OGL route, I will have to lose content in order to make room for the license mumbo-jumbo in really tiny print at the bottom of one of the pages (like SWL). That content would be ship-to-ship combat. The up side to this is that I could edit it to be far more friendly to someone looking to convert over to S&W, SWL, B/X, etc.

Any thoughts, preferences or objections?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saintly Saturday: The Holy Martyrs Adrian and Natalie

Today is the Feast of the Holy Martyrs Adrian and Natalie. One of the things I love about studying the lives of the saints is the realization that these people come from all walks of life from all around the world. Sts. Adrian and Natalie were a young married couple who lived during the reign of Maximian. Adrian was a pagan and Natalie was a secret Christian. Maximian was persecuting the Christians and they each were brought before the Praetor so that their names and responses could be recorded. Adrian was serving in the praetorium and witnessed Christian after Christian refuse to denounce Christ even though it meant a horrible death.

Finally he asked them why, and they responded that the rewards that awaited them for their suffering were beyond the human’s mind’s capacity to understand. In a moment of clarity, he presented himself to the Praetor and declared himself a Christian. When his wife Natalie heard the report that he was in jail, she ran to visit him and then rejoiced when she found out the reason why.

Through all the tortures, she encouraged her husband to hold fast to his newfound faith. Finally, the emperor gave up trying to convince St. Adrian and those Christians imprisoned with him to denounce Christ, so he ordered their death. The executioner ordered that all their legs and hands be smashed off on an anvil. Fearing that her husband would waver seeing such cruelty demanded that he be first going so far as to hold St. Adrian’s hands upon the anvil. As a consequence, she was able to abscond with one of his hands which she preserved as a relic. She fled to Argyropolis near Byzantium (which would become Constantinople) where she died shortly thereafter.


This is a rather grim tale that probably does not make much sense to most modern minds. In fact, I may very well have squeamishly ignored this story had I not have had to go through with the last several years of my life. One of my children has had to have multiple surgeries and countless painful procedures to keep her alive. By the grace of God, she is doing well, but I can tell you the only reason I could endure seeing (and some times helping) my own child go through that kind of pain was the knowledge and the hope that life and healing could only happen through that excruciating pain.

It is in this context that I completely sympathize with St. Natalie and what she had to go through encouraging her husband to endure torture and death to the point of aiding the executioner. This was her chance to see her beloved gain not just hope and life, but the eternal life offered by our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. — Matthew 16:24

***

Hand of the 10,000 Martyrs


These life-size hands are partially encased in bronze and attached to a chain that allow someone to wear them around the neck. The hands have a variable appearance according to the alignment of the viewer. A Chaotic will see a diseased and rotting hand, a Neutral will see a hand made of bronze and a Lawful will see a living hand that softly glows.

Chaotics who touch the Hand must make a Save vs. Death or suffer the effects of a Cause Disease spell. For Neutrals, the Hand is nothing more than piece of jewelry. When a Lawful character places the hand around their neck, they are bestowed with one of the following powers (roll a d20):

1-10. Lay on Hands as a paladin of the same level. Paladins have their Lay on Hands ability doubled.
11-15. Jarring Hand as a spell-like ability 3 times per day.
16. Interposing Hand as a spell-like ability once per day.
17. Forceful Hand as a spell-like ability once per day.
18. Grasping Hand as a spell-like ability once per day.
19. Clenched Fist as a spell-like ability once per day.
20. Crushing Hand as a spell-like ability once per day.

If a Lawful character should wear two of these Hands at the same time, the two come together as if in prayer and the wearer has the spell Prayer cast upon them permanently.