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.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Simple Sci-Fi Ship-to-Ship Combat


As I mentioned yesterday, I am in the midst of type-setting my SF + SWL Mash-Up and I am not sure I will have enough room for Ship-to-Ship combat (since that isn't a primary focus of the game). I did, however, come up with a simple (if extremely abstract) combat system and I want to at least post on the blog. Please note: I am operating under the assumption that space ships are extremely valuable, so combat between ship is designed to disable and board, not destroy a ship.
At the beginning of each round of combat, both sides choose to either Engage or Evade.
  • If both Evade, the combat is over and both sides escape.
  • When one Evades and the other Engages: if both sides succeed or fail with their roll, combat continues; if Evasion succeeds and Engagement fails, the combat is over, the Evaders escape; if Engagement succeeds and Evasion fails roll d6 for damage (see below)
  • If both Engage, on any success, roll a d6 for damage:
  1. Outmaneuvered! Attacker may successfully Evade or add +2 to next roll.
  2. Minor Damage! Target ship is at -1 on all rolls until fixed.
  3. Dangerous Leak! All crew members of target ship are at -2 until the leak is fixed.
  4. Shields Down! Target ship is at -2 on all rolls until fixed.
  5. Prepare to be boarded! Target ship’s Engine is dead until fixed and attacking crew may board.
  6. Crash Landing! Target ship is near totaled and stranded on nearest planet/large space object.
As you can see, there are only three real possibilities with this system: escape, the ship is boarded or the ship crash-lands. Thus, regardless of which of these three events occur, the situation the players find their characters in can be affected by their choices and actions. If a TPK occurs, it doesn't happen because one player made a bad roll and the ship gets destroyed with everybody on it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Insanity Rules for SWL & My Mash-Up

I am in the midst of typesetting my 4-page SF+SWL Mash-Up and realized that I have no real intention for this game to go beyond 3rd level because I don’t have Erik Tenkar’s luxury of saying, “For advancement beyond 3rd level, please refer to the Sword & Wizardry: Complete rules.”

This got me thinking about how to make it possible to have a long-running campaign with SWL without going on to S&W:Complete and by extension how to do the same with my SF+SWL mash-up. In reviewing my monster list, I was reminded of how much influence H.P. Lovecraft has on the way I build RPG worlds, regardless of which system or genre. This, in turn, got me thinking about the insanity rules of Call of Cthulhu and I think I have a fun little means of extending the life of a rules-light RPG campaign that only goes to third level.

I’m Too Old for This Crap!

Delving into the Mythic Underground, going to the edge of the Outer Darkness and fighting the strange monsters that spew forth from these places can and does do damage to anyone’s sanity. Therefore, after each successful adventure, players are required to make a “Sanity Check” for their character:
Roll a d20 and add the character’s level and the number of successive adventures the player has used the character in the current campaign. If the total is ≥ 20, then the character has seen too much and needs to take a break from active adventuring. Roll a d4 (or other die type agreed upon by the player and referee). The result is the number of sessions that character has to sit out before being mentally stable enough to return. The player then creates a new character to use in the next session.
The long-term result is that each player will have a cache of characters that they can play with. Depending on which character is recuperating and what the player feels like, they have the freedom to come to the table with different characters. In turn, this gives the Referee the freedom to plan a longer term campaign that doesn’t have an automatic cut-off date when characters get to 3rd level. Indeed, it can add a bit of spiciness to the table, especially for Referees and Players who don’t mind using a random table of insanities to add to their character’s growing number of quirks.

Monday, August 21, 2017

SF + SWL Mash-Up Part 6

Monsters

What follows are the stat blocs for several monsters. Like SWL, I have 18 creatures with simplified mechanics and descriptions. For those interested I used these public domain alien names and concepts for inspiration for some of the entires.

Brain Lords

Def: 0 HP: 1d6+1 Att: 1d6+1 Mental Blast BAB: +7 Move: 3
Special: Mental Def -4; Telekinesis as per Mind Mage ability
Large, brainy heads with atrophied bodies. They use Mechans as exoskeletons to help them move.

Bug, Giant Glow

Def: -1 HP: 1d6+3 Att: 2d6 bite BAB: +7 Move: 12

A giant glow bug’s light-glands glow phosphorescently and continue to give off light in a 10’ radius for 1d6 days after they are removed.

Crater Men

Def: 0 HP: 2d6+1 Att: 1d6 weapon or claw BAB: +8 Move: 12
Special: Stink Gas
These asteroid dwelling creatures emit a gas attack that, if successful, reduces a victim’s BAB by -2 for 1d6 x 10 minutes.

Demons

Def: -1 HP: 6d6+3 Att: 1d6 weapon or claw BAB: +12 Move: 12
Special: Banish Def: -5; Regenerate 3hp per round.
Creatures of the Outer Darkness. The only way to utterly kill a demon is by dousing them with holy water.

Flesh Eaters

Def: +1 HP: 2d6 Att: 1d6 claw + special BAB: +8 Move: 9
AC: 6[13]
Special: Paralysis Attack; Banish Def: -2; Mental Def: -4

Flesh Eaters Are creatures of the Outer Darkness that eat the flesh of their victims, leaving only skeletal remains. They have a second attack per round that paralyzes a victim for 3d6 rounds if successful. Skeletal remains of their victims will become Fleshless in 1d6 days.

Fleshless

Def: +3 HP: 1d6 Att: 1d6 weapon BAB: +7 Move: 12
Special: Banish Def: 0; Mental Def: -4
Skeletal creatures of the Outer Darkness.

Mechans

Def: +1 HP: 1d6-1 Att: 1d6 weapon BAB: +7 Move: 9

Special: -1 to BAB when not directly controlled by a Brain Lord

Semi-autonomous cyborg servitors of the Brain Lords.

Megaspiders

Def: +1 HP: 2d6+2 Att: 1d6 bite BAB: +8 Move: 18
Special: Webs
Megaspiders may attack using their webs. Victims become stuck. Even those missed can only move at half rate through webbed areas. Megaspider surprise on a roll of 1–5 on a d6.

Mephisians

Def: 0 HP: 4d6+1 Att: 1d6+2 weapon BAB: +9 Move: 9

Special: Banish Def: -3
Devil-like humanoids of the Outer Darkness that like to be overlords of other monsters.

Mooniacs

Def: +1 HP: 1d6 Att: 1d6 weapon BAB: +7 Move: 12
Marauding green humanoids that gather in tribes.

Possessed

Def: +3 HP: 2d6 Att: 1d6 weapon or strike BAB: +8 Move: 6
Special: Banish Def: -1
Innocent humanoids possessed by creatures of the Outer Darkness. They may be freed if rendered unconscious or with a Critical Banish roll.

Sand Rat

Def: +2 HP: 1d6-1 Att: 1d6 bite BAB: +7 Move: 12
Giant vermin about the size of a small dog.

Shadow Beasts

Def: +1 HP: 4d6 Att: 1d6 bite BAB: +10 Move: 18
Special: Banish Def: -3
Large, intelligent beasts from the Outer Darkness sometime used as mounts by other monsters.

Space Dragon

Def: -2 HP: 8d6 Att: 1d6 bite or blast BAB: +14 Move: 6/24 flying
Special: Flight, Sonic Blast
Giant winged beast that are able to use a 30’ r. area effect sonic attack.

Space Witches

Def: +4 HP: 2d6 Att: 1d6 weapon BAB: +8 Move: 12

Special: Charm; Mental Def: -4

These practitioners of the dark arts prefer to avoid combat by Charming their victims (BAB+10). On a critical success, a victim can be forced to do something dramatically out of character.

Stonebacks

Def: 0 HP: 3d6+1 Att: 1d6 weapon or claw BAB: +9 Move: 9
Special: Surprise opponents with 1–3 on 1d6 roll
These carnivorous reptilian humanoids have stone-like scales that allow them to easily hide in any environment.

Utani Ape-men

Def: 0 HP: 2d6 Att: 1d6 weapon or claw BAB: +8 Move: 9
Utani Ape-men are tall humanoids with an ape-like appearance.

Zutharians

Def: +1 HP: 1d3 Att: 1d6-1 weapon BAB: +6 Move: 6
Cowardly, small green humanoids usually enslaved by other monsters.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

SF + SWL Mash-Up Part 5

Characteristics

Before I get to the crux of this particular post, I need to explain my thinking on Characteristics because I won’t be using the traditional six of D&D and its decedents. Due to the fact that there are three categories of Areas of Expertise (AoE) (my proto-skill system) I wanted to condense the original six to three characteristics, each corresponding to an AoE. Thus:
  • STR/CON = Toughness which affects Hit Points, Melee Attacks and the Military AoE.
  • DEX/INT = Acuity which affects Defense, Ranged Attacks and the Hard Science AoE.
  • WIS/CHA = Judgement which affects Banishing, Spell-like Abilities and the Biosocial AoE.
For flavor, players can use descriptors to clarify which of the original six is dominant in each pair. For example, a character’s Acuity could be more intellectual than physical.

Races

In both Star Frontiers and D&D (and its direct descendants), there are four basic races: humans plus three non-human races. Dralasites, Vrusks and Yazirians roughly correspond to Dwarves, Elves and Halflings. While it would be tempting to make simplified versions of the Star Frontier races in the same way SWL does with the traditional D&D races, it severely limits what the game can do. Suddenly, all campaigns are tasked with looking very much like the Star Frontiers universe.

I find this lacking because, while extremely interesting, Drasalites, Vrusks and Yazirians are not archetypal in the way that Dwarves, Elves and Halflings are. As a consequence, I want to offer a set of mechanics that can easily describe a number of different iconic sci-fi aliens rather than three aliens that are described by mechanics.

Humans

At character creation, a human PC gets a +1 that the player can place on any of the three Characteristics. The other two will be ±0. This expresses the great variety of humanity as well as their flexibility.

Militant Aliens

These are aliens that either come from a war-like culture or are physically capable of being excellent warriors. Militant Aliens have a +1 Toughness, ±0 Acuity and -1 Judgement. They also have the special ability of Battle Rage. They may take an action to enter into Battle Rage, which requires a successful Action Roll. If successful, the Militant Alien receives a +2 with Melee Attacks. With a Critical Success, that bonus increases to +4. Militant Aliens may only choose the Warrior Class.

Militant Aliens: Ka D'Argo, Ookla and a Yazirian 

Mentalist Aliens

These are aliens that rely on some kind of mental prowess. Mentalist Aliens have a -1 Toughness, +1 Acuity and ±0 Judgement. They also have the special ability to Detect with a successful Action Roll or a 10 minute preparation time. What exactly the character is capable of detecting is chosen by the player at character creation. For example, Dralasites can Detect Lies. Mentalist Aliens may choose the Mind Mage or Warrior Class.

Mentalist Aliens: a Talosian, Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan and a Dralasite

Merchant Aliens

These are aliens that have a gift for interacting with other cultures and species. Merchant Aliens have a ±0 Toughness , -1 Acuity and +1 Judgement. They also have the special ability to Comprehend Languages (Spoken) with an Action Roll. With a critical success, they can also Comprehend Languages (Witten).  Merchant Aliens may only choose the Warrior Class.

Merchant Aliens: a Neimoidian, Quark the Ferengi and a Vrusk 
Players and Referees are encouraged to re-skin these mechanics any way they wish. As an example, the Comprehend Language ability of the Merchant Alien could be re-skinned as a latent version of telepathy or empathy akin to Ship’s Councilor Troi from STNG.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Andrew the Commander

Today is the feast of St. Andrew the Commander. He was a roman soldier during the reign of Maximian. About the year A.D. 289 he was sent by Antiochus, the Commander-in-Chief of the Roman forces, to fight off a large Persian army that had invaded the Syrian territories. Interestingly, St. Andrew had not yet been baptized a Christian, but still persuaded his men that the pagan gods were merely stone carved by human hands and were of no help in the upcoming battle. In contrast, all things were brought into being through Jesus Christ the omnipotent God of heaven and earth. Therefore, all his men, believing that Christ would give aid to all who believe in him, called upon the help of Christ. Though greatly outnumbered, St. Andrew’s men routed the Persians.

When it was discovered that this victory was done in the name of Jesus Christ, St. Andrew and his men were put on trial by Antiochus. When they confessed Christ they were tortured: St. Andrew was placed on a bed of hot iron and the hands of his men were nailed to block of wood. They were then chased through the streets by soldiers. In the end, these men, too, came to believe in Christ because they saw the strength of St. Andrew’s faith and listened to his teachings.

After seeing the folly of these tortures, Antiochus had them all beheaded: St. Andrew and 2,593 soldiers. At the spot of their martyrdom, one of the passes of Mt. Tauros in Cilicia, a spring come forth from the ground. It was soon discovered by the local Christians to have healing properties.


As a player, one of the things I enjoy most in an RPG is being surprised by my character. I allow the events of a campaign to shape them and inform their decisions as they advance in levels and/or power. For example, I was playing in a campaign that had a desecrated temple of St. Cuthbert sitting atop the Caverns of Thracia. I joined the campaign late and ended up playing an NPC turned PC.

Over the course of the campaign, the group managed to finally (and unknowingly) cleanse the temple of St. Cuthbert. Ironically, my character had failed a saving through and therefore was fleeing. Therefore, my character was the only PC to witness a divine light bathe the temple leaving behind a set of Bracers of Defense.

The fear left my character and he took up the bracers in awe. I decided that my character would see this event as a command to wear the bracers for the rest of his career and that he would become a devout follower of St. Cuthbert. Thus, by a random event, my fighter-type character ended up religiously wearing a magic item primarily designed for magic-users. This event reminds me very much of the story of St. Andrew and his soldiers. They allowed a single event to radically change their lives.

Fortunately, it was a 1e D&D campaign, therefore I had the freedom to choose this path for my character without crippling him.

In the wake of Paizo’s release of Starfinder, I am getting buried under a bunch of promotional material about various companies releasing support material for the game. I have to be honest, here: I have zero interest, despite the fact that my Gamer ADD is now focused on producing a 4-page ruleset for a sci-fi RPG. The reason I don’t have any interest is, again, related to the story of St. Andrew.

The 3.5 engine that drives Pathfinder and Starfinder gives off the aura of having a plethora of options for its players. Unfortunately, this is largely an illusion. The game assumes a certain amount of min/maxing and optimization by its players as their characters advance in levels. This cam be seen in the way monsters are handled at higher levels. Thus, the game itself punishes players who do not follow a pre-determined set of paths for advancement. Without optimization, a character can very quickly become unplayable and even a danger to the rest of the party. Thus, a character is expected to advance and develop in a particular fashion despite what happens in a campaign. Paizo even has The Pathfinder Strategy Guide, a book entirely dedicated to strategies of planning out how to optimally advance a character. Everything is planned out. There are not supposed to be any surprises.


I have experienced this on more than one occasion, where I chose to follow the logic of the events in a campaign rather than The Strategy Guide optimization. My characters would end up being less and less effective in play compared to those who had panned out their characters and the campaign became less and less interesting to me and I became more and more frustrated. While I understand and appreciate the min/max impulse in games, it best belongs in the realm of war-games, not RPGs.

I believe that if St. Andrew were a 3.5/Pathfinder character he and his men would never have chosen the path of Christ, because it wan’t optimal to their career choice; however, it makes sense in context of the events they actually experienced. Allowing PCs to freely make similar choices without systemically punishing them for doing so is not only more realistic, it’s also more fun: we get to be surprised by how the campaign world affects our characters as much as our characters affect the campaign world.

Friday, August 18, 2017

SF + SWL Mash-Up Part 4

Classes

For those who have been following this series of posts, it is possible to intuit that there will be only three classes: Cleric, Fighter, and Magic-user. For the purposes of making this feel more like a sci-fi RPG, these three classes will be re-skinned and re-named:

Warrior


Adventurers from battlefields from across the galaxy both primitive and technological.

Hit Points: 7hp at 1st lvl, 14 at 2nd lvl and 21 at 3rd lvl.
Basic Action Bonus (BAB): +7 at 1st level, +8 at 2nd level and +9 at 3rd level.
Equipment: Warriors start with any melee weapon and any gun as well as one type of armor and one type of shield.
Special Abilities: Warriors get one attack per level each round.

Crusader


Crusaders are men and women who use their faith to beat back the creatures of the Outer Darkness that now blight the space lanes.

Hit Points: 6hp at 1st lvl, 12hpt at 2nd lvl, 18hp at 3rd lvl
Basic Action Bonus (BAB): +6, +7 at 3rd lvl
Equipment: Crusaders begin the game with either a sonic sword or a sonic pistol as well as one type of armor and one type of shield.
Special Abilities:

Banish: Crusaders have the ability to banish creatures from the Outer Darkness, causing them to flee. When attempting to banish, make an action roll. On a success, all creatures of the targeted type are banished and will flee for 3d6 rounds, or will cower helplessly if they can’t flee. On a critical success, the targeted creatures are destroyed.

Starting at 2nd level, Crusaders may choose one of the following abilities to use on an adventure and may change their choice between adventures:

Cure Wounds: Touch a target and make an action roll. On a success, the target heals 1d6+1 hp.

Detect Evil: Spend 10 minutes in prayer or meditation. For 60 minutes, the Crusader can detect evil creatures, enchantments, intentions, thoughts, or auras at a range of 120 feet.

Spiritual Protection: Spend 10 minutes in prayer or meditation. For the next 2 hours the Crusader has an additional Defense of -2 against all attacks from evil creatures.

At 3rd level, Crusaders may choose two of these abilities.


Mind Mage


Enigmatic students of the arcane who have developed mental powers.

Hit Points: 5 at 1st lvl, 10 at 2nd lvl, and 15 at 3rd lvl
Base Action Bonus: +5
Equipment: Mind Mages begin the game with a laser sword or a laser pistol as well as one type of shield.
Special Abilities:

Mental Powers: Mind Mages are trained in mental powers. At 1st level, a Mind Mage chooses one power off of List A. At 2nd level a Mind Mage chooses a second power off of List A. At 3rd level a Mind Mage chooses a third power from List A and one power from List B. All powers require a successful action roll to use immediately or 10 minutes of careful mental preparation without an action roll.

List A

Allure
Range: 20’ area per level Duration: Instantaneous
When used, all intelligent creatures within range will have a friendly disposition to the Mind Mage.

Metamorphosis
Range: self Duration: 1 hour
The Mind Mage can change their appearance. This change is largely cosmetic, seeming to be up to 1 foot taller or shorter, fatter or thinner; however, the Mind Mage must still look humanoid.

Mental Blast
Range: Line of Sight Duration: Instantaneous
The Mind Mage does 1d6+1 damage. The target gets no defense except for anything that helps against mental attacks. The Mind Mage does not suffer any range penalties.

Screen
Range: Self Duration: 20 minutes
The Mind Mage has an additional -4 Defense vs. ranged attacks and -2 Defense vs. melee attacks.

Telekinesis
Range: 10’ per level Duration: Instantaneous
The Mind Mage may move a 1 pound object 1 foot per level. This may also be used as an attack. On a successful action roll, the target loses their next action.

List B

Chameleon
Range: self Duration: Until removed or an attack is made
The Mind Mage blends into the background and cannot be seen. The Mind Mage cannot be attacked unless an approximate location is known, and then all attacks are made at -4. If the Mind Mage makes an attack, the chameleon effect is ended. Otherwise it lasts until removed by the Mind Mage.

Levitate
Range: self Duration: 1 hour + 10 mins per level
The Mind Mage can move vertically up to 20 feet per round.

Panic
Range: 60’ Duration: 3d6 rounds
All creatures of the targeted type within range are panicked and will flee for the duration, or will cower helplessly if they can’t flee. Creatures of the Outer Darkness are immune to this effect.

Monday, August 14, 2017

SF + SWL Mash-Up Part 3

Crunch

Now that we have established the proto-skill system of AoEs, we need to have a means of determining what happens when Joe or Jane Player can’t quite convince the Referee that their Space Specialization should let them know if a local plant is poisonous.

Over at Delta’s D&D Hotspot you will find one of my favorite formulas for attack rolls:
d20+HD+AC ≥ 20
I want to incorporate the basic gist of this idea. When making any kind of roll involving what RPGs generally call a “skill,” including combat, a character succeeds when the player rolls a d20 adds their bonuses and arrives at a total of 20 or more.

This necessitates determining what a base success looks like. In SWL there are three places where we can start to get an idea of how often a player can expect to succeed: Combat, Turning Undead and Thief Skills.
  • The average AAC of all the monsters in SWL is 13.
  • A 1st level cleric needs a 10+ on 3d6 to Turn a Skeleton, a 13+ to Turn Ghouls & Zombies, a 15+ to Turn Shadows & Wights and a 17+ to Turn a Wraith.
  • A Thief has a 1 in 6 chance for most skills, the exceptions being Hear Noise (3 in 6), Read Languages (4 in 6) and Climb Walls (5 in 6). Demi-human Thieves have some skills at 2 in 6. 
Thus, there is an average 40% chance to hit in combat, and average of 25% chance to Turn all undead and most Thief Skills have a 16.7% chance of success. The average of all of these is approximately 27%. Bump that up a little due to the various other Thief Skills and we are rather close to the 2 in 6 (32%) chance that feels very familiar to those who have played older versions of D&D.

Translating that into a d20 roll means a 14 or a 15 + bonuses to arrive at 20+ in our formula.

This means I have wiggle room to assign variable “Base Action Bonuses” to each class:
  • Fighter +7
  • Cleric +6
  • Magic-user +5
This means that Fighters will be the “skill” class. I justify this because there really isn’t any justification for limiting clerics to blunt weapons or magic-users to staffs and daggers when weapons are described as laser, sonic and conventional as I plan to do. Thus all three classes will be able to use any weapon.

In addition, I am toying with the idea of allowing the spell-casters to use their spells multiple times per day with two different options:
  • To use a spell immediately requires a successful roll.
  • To use a spell that will automatically succeed requires 10 minutes to cast.
Therefore, Fighters get that extra bonus when trying to do the “impossible” stuff.

To sum up, everything in this SWL + SF mash-up will rely on the following formula:
Success = d20 + Base Action Bonus + Situational Bonuses/Penalties ≥ 20.
This also opens the door to this formula:
Critical Success =  d20 + Base Action Bonus + Situational Bonuses/Penalties ≥ 30.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

SF + SWL Mash-Up Part 2

Skills

When it comes to skill systems, I tend to be a curmudgeonly old grognard. I don’t like them. Instead of being inspirational, they are restrictive — they tell players what they cannot do rather than what they can do. Therefore, I prefer having nothing to do with skill systems in games that I run or design. Unfortunately, sci-fi RPGs necessitate some kind of acknowledgement that the worlds they inhabit are heavily dependent upon various skill sets in order to emulate. Thus, if I am going to do a mash-up of SWL + SF I am going to have to come up with a skill system that is inspirational rather than restrictive.

My generic response to skill systems is a concept I call Areas of Expertise (AoE). Rather than being a specific skill, like Knowledge: Nobility, an AoE is a broad category like Society. Rather than telling a player that their character cannot know about the local Nobility in the area they are exploring (you don’t have the specific Knowledge: Nobility skill or you fail your roll if you do), an AoE invites the player to justify why a character should know about the local Nobility. A player with a broad category like “Social” can haggle with the Referee explaining how six degrees of separation allows to him know someone who knows someone or some other creative explanation.

SF actually divides its skill system into three broad categories called Primary Skill Areas: Military, Technological and Biosocial. Each of these are then broken down into more specific skills, some of which are far more specific than others. For example, the Military sub-sets are broken down into specific weapon types whereas one of the Biosocial skills is “Environmental.” Besides the odd mix of specific with broad, I really like this set-up, particularly in the way that (with the odd exception of Military) the system tries to keep it simple by having three skills under each Primary Skill Area.

Therefore, I am going to be borrowing heavily from this set-up, with a few tweaks. Firstly, the Primary Skill Areas will become AoEs and the Skills will becomes Specializations. The idea is this: There will be times when it will become really hard for a player to justify how their AoE is relevant to a particular situation and the Referee will need a roll to see if there is some obscure way that the player’s argument holds water. If the player can then justify that their character’s Specialization is part of the equation, they can get a +1 to the roll. It also gives the player more room for negotiating with the Referee that their character should be able to do a particular task or know a particular piece of information.

The three AoEs will be:
  • Military
  • Hard Science
  • Biosocial
The Military Specializations will be:
  • Ranged Combat (offering a +1 when using ranged weapons)
  • HTH Combat (offering a +1 when in melee)
  • Special Ops (offering a +4 to hit and x2 damage when attacking with surprise)
(These bonuses are up front because the player’s suggestion that they should always hit in combat because of this AoE will always fall short)

The Hard Science Specializations will be:
  • Space
  • Electronics
  • Mechanics
The Biosocial Specializations will be:
  • Environment
  • Medicine
  • Diplomacy

Players choose one AoE and one of its Specializations at character creation. For those worried about Thief Skills, I can see plenty of ways to justify how they would be covered by various Specializations:
  • Find/Remove Traps: Environment, Electronics, Mechanics, Space
  • Open Locks: Electronics, Mechanics
  • Hide in Shadows: Environment, Space
  • Move Silently: Environment, Special Ops
  • Hear Noise: Diplomacy, Space
  • Read Languages: Diplomacy, Electronics
  • Climb Walls: Special Ops, Environment
I am not going to include this particular list in the rules, because I would much prefer to encourage players to make the arguments as to why their character should be able to do them.

Note that these AoEs are available to all classes. Thus, it is possible to have nine different flavors of each class which allows players a tool with which to delve into the background of their character and make something really cool from just a few tidbits of information. It also allows a Referee to either go with the flow and have a hugely diverse universe (as seen in the Star Wars Cantina scene) or to chisel out specific entities within their universe where each AoE specialization would come from (allowing for a much more hard sci-fi approach).

To sum up, this system encourages a lot of creative banter between players and referees (which is something I really enjoy at the table); however, it also provides a backup "skill roll" for those who prefer that style of play or for those who don't like to engage in a lot of negotiations.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saintly Saturday: Solomon Kane!?

Today is not the feast of St. Maximus the Confessor. Tomorrow, the Orthodox Church celebrates the translation of his relics; however, since tomorrow is also the Leave-Taking of a Major Feast (Transfiguration) none of the hymns dedicated to Maximus are sung tomorrow. Thus, out of respect for Maximus, the hymns that would be sung tomorrow if it weren’t the Leave-Taking of Transfiguration are sung today.

St. Maximus is called “Confessor” because he suffered for Christ without being martyred. His hand was cut off and his tongue was cut out at the order of the Emperor of Rome in A.D. 661. Maximus had spent years fighting against a heresy known as Monothelitism, a heresy the emperor championed. The heresy holds that Christ only had one will — HIs divine will. This was attacked by Maximus and others because it violates the axiom of St. Gregory the Theologian — whatever part of humanity Christ doesn’t assume as His own isn’t saved.

Thus, Monothelitism essentially argues that humanity’s free will is not a part of Christ, is not a part of salvation and ultimately is not saved by Christ. This is a demonstration that Christianity has been fighting for the concept of free will in human beings for a very long time.


I could wax poetic about how RPGs are (or at least should be) an exercise in free will, but I’d much rather talk about REH and Solomon Kane.

I recently noticed that our local library now stocks several REH collections, one of which is The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. I have been wanting to read these stories ever since I heard about the character. If memory serves me correctly it was shortly before the 2009 Movie (which I really enjoyed, BTW).


Many times over the years of maintaining this blog have I felt the need to justify why the cleric has a rightful place in D&D. I have generally leaned very heavily on the wargaming roots of RPGs to make that argument. Now I wish to make it from a literary one, and one from none other than the creator of Conan himself. In the story Skulls in the Stars, REH describes something that we who play D&D might call Turning Undead:
Kane fought with his arms and his feet and his hands, and he was aware at last that the ghost began to give back before him, that the fearful laughter changed to screams of baffled fury. For man’s only weapon is courage that flinches not from the gates of Hell itself, and against such not even the legions of Hell can stand.
I would further clarify that the courage displayed by Kane, (and by St. Maximus and all the confessors and martyrs throughout history) come from God and the full knowledge that Christ has defeated death and thrown open the Gates of Hades so that we need not fear death anymore. The faith that this reality is true brings with it a courage that can turn away demons and ghosts and can stand in defiance of Emperors even in the face of torture and death.

There you have it: a fantastic literary description of Turning Undead. So, while I support anyone who wants no part of clerics their games, I now have two pretty huge names in my arsenal to justify not only why clerics are a more than legitimate part of the game but why those of us who love to use them stand on solid ground when keeping them in our games. Those names just so happen to be Solomon Kane and Robert Ervin Howard.

Friday, August 11, 2017

SF + SWL Mash-Up Part 1

As I mentioned in my last post, my Gamer ADD has gone into over-drive and I am working on producing a yet-to-be-named mash-up of Star Frontiers (SF) and Swords & Wizardry Light (SWL). The goal with this mash-up is similar to SWL — strip down Swords & Wizardry + Star Frontiers so that a campaign can be played from about 4 pages of rules. Thus, the first thing I need to do is start making a list of things that won’t be in those 4 or so pages of rules.

  • Rolled Characteristics: In SWL, a characteristic either gives a +1 bonus or no bonus at all. Since the implied reason for having rolled characteristics is a reference for ad hoc skill tests, they are not going to be necessary since there will be a proto-skill system imported from SF. All Characteristics will be expressed simply as “0” or “+1.” These will be assigned by the player at character creation.
  • Armor Class: In a world that includes lasers, sonic weapons and rifles, armor is not going to be a huge factor in combat. Since this game will only encompass Levels 1-3, the easiest way to deal with D&D’s weakness for simulating firearms is to create a simple formula where every roll must reach‘20’ with all its bonuses and penalties to succeed.
  • Thieves: Since the Thief is the proto-skill class of D&D and there will be a proto-skill system imported from SF, having a Thief class will be redundant.
  • Elves, Dwarves and Halflings: I will err on the side of SF and simulate the three alien races provided there.
  • Drasalites, Vrusks and Yazirians: The aliens I want to simulate will be inspired by these three races, but will not be these races specifically. I want to use them to create archetypes that one player will be able to call “Drasalite” while allowing another player using the same archetype to call “(Fill in your favorite sci-fi alien here).” This will allow for the game to delve into the space opera, Star Wars cantina scene rather easily while also allowing for a Referee to give a campaign a hard-science fiction feel by being more specific about the archetypes.
  • A Ship-to-ship combat system: This is a bugaboo in sci-fi RPGs for me. As a player, I always found it really frustrating when the party got reduced to one entity in combat and therefore my ability to be creative with my character in order to affect combat virtually disappeared. Even if I were the pilot or the gunner, my actions were pre-defined by the ship. As a referee, I don’t like it because if I were to create situations in space the same way I would in a sand-box campaign, one roll could result in a TPK (the destruction of a ship) rather than the death of one character. Any space combat will be abstracted to the possibility that the party’s ship is damaged, and they need to repair it before they can go anywhere and/or have crash-landed on a hostile planet (like the cover of SF).
  • The traditional six characteristics: This final one isn’t set in stone. SF has eight characteristics grouped into pairs: STR/STA, INT/LOG, PER/LDR. Since SF also has three categories of skills that I plan on emulating, it is going to be awfully tempting to pair up the six D&D traits so that each pair corresponds to a skill set.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Gamer ADD: Star Frontiers + SWL

Those who are familiar with my blog know that I suffer quite often from Gamer ADD. When I come to a point in a project or a campaign where there is either grueling grunt work (as with my Portown project) or a logical/practical dead end, my mind has a tendency of going off into the woods. Most of the time I can’t help myself because one of the of the aspects of RPGs I love the most is the creative process, both at the table and beyond the table.

Various folks have been blogging RPGaDAY2017 this month. While I am both too busy and not inspired enough by the prompts to bother myself, it did remind me of one of my all-time favorite RPG covers, if not my favorite RPG:


Unfortunately, Star Frontiers never really lived up to the expectations inspired by that cover. It doesn’t do hard science fiction as well as Traveller and doesn’t do space opera as well as Star Wars d6; however, it does invite me to try something that just might drive my creative self a little bit crazy. It has two sets of rules: one called “Basic” and the other called “Expanded.” The Basic rules were about 20 pages but were really only a glorified war game. The idea of a Referee was only introduced in the Expanded Rules.

Given that I have long believed that D&D is actually one of the most successful sci-fi RPGs ever to be published, given that I have really fallen in love with the magnificent simplicity of Swords & Wizardry Light and given that Star Frontiers originally had a simplified version of its rules, my Gamer ADD wants desperately to take Swords & Wizardry Light and marry it with concepts from Star Frontiers to create a version of the game worthy of the cover art.

Colossi of the Empire of a Thousand Suns.

At the height of human space exploration, the Empire of a Thousand Suns came upon the edge of space, beyond which was only darkness. To the peril of all who drew near, all that came out of what would become known as the Outer Darkness were monsters and demons. Thus, the Empire built the Colossi: giant sentinel ships and robots to guard all sentient species from the ravages that emerged from the Darkness.

That age has long past. The Empire is only a shadow of itself, monsters freely roam space and the Colossi float in ruin. Today, adventurers of all stripes dare to explore these hulks at the edge of space: Crusaders of the Holy Sacherdotsi, Mind Mages from the Halls of Ancient Knowledge and Warriors from battlefields both primitive and technological. Some seek fortune and glory, some pine for the treasures of a more venerable age, and some dare to drive the Darkness back from whence it came.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Eusignius of Antioch

Today is the feast of St. Eusignius of Antioch. He was a soldier of the Roman Empire who served under several emperors, including the father of the St. Constantine the Great, Constantius Chorus and St. Constantine himself. He was present when St. Constantine saw the Chi Ro appear in the sky predicting his victory against his rival Maxentius. For those curious, these are the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek. All told, he served the Empire six decades as a soldier. By some accounts, this service lasted until Julian the Apostate came to power in A.D. 361 and by others he had retired to Antioch where he was denounced by a fellow citizen and therefore appeared before to the Emperor.



In both accounts St. Eusignius upbraided the Emperor, recalling Julian’s own history: Julian was the nephew of the first Christian Emperor, he had been raised within the Church and baptized, he attended school with Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian and had been a Reader of the Church he attended in Nicomedia. Eusignius recounted the image of the Chi Ro in the sky and the victory it presaged. Despite these admonitions, Julian had St. Eusignius beheaded in A.D. 361. Julian’s reign would be short. Foolishly, he went to war with the Persians and died in battle in A.D. 363.


I have got to admit, as an old grognard I really like this guy. Unfortunately, he is emblematic of the time we live in. Ever since I was a kid, I have had the Baby Boomer mantra “Don’t trust anyone over 30” forced on me (ironically, normally by people who were over 30) and it is pervasive in the culture. We cater to the young instead of listening to the wisdom of our elders. In fact, we have created an entire industry out of various retirement homes so we don’t even have to see them, let alone listen to them.

As a trained historian, I see this path fraught with danger. There is truth in the old axiom, those who don’t understand the past are doomed to repeat it. Not only have we forgotten much of our own past, we are willfully ignoring it and, in some cases, actively trying to shut down any attempt to learn that history. Cultures tried this path already in the 20th century. It ended in the death of millions.

Thus, I find in St. Eusignius a kindred spirit — an old grognard willing to stand up and remind an Emperor of what an idiot he was for ignoring the past. I also think that the OSR, in its own way, has followed in his footsteps. We have doggedly reminded the RPG world that the past is not only important to remember, but that games written 40+ years ago are still relevant and fun to play. Imagine for a moment, if WotC had listened to the Julian Apostates of world and turned its back on TSR, D&D and all that history. Imagine a world without the OGL. Without our past remembered, honored and played, we would not be living through the Golden Age of RPGs that we are living through today.

In this sense, we stand forth as icons of why the past is not only important, but why it is necessary to bring the past into the present in order to make that present better than the past. If only we could bring that message beyond our wonderful little corner of the internet.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Under Portown: The Urban Surprise Roll

When the Surprise Roll in D&D and its clones is used for Wilderness and Dungeon Encounters, it is generally a precursor to combat. Therefore, it does not seem to have much use in an urban environment where combat is almost universally frowned upon. Given that an urban hex-crawl takes a far more abstract approach to the idea of exploring cities, it leaves room for the Surprise Roll to be used as a means of determining what kind of information can be gathered from a random encounter inside the city.

There are four basic outcomes from a Surprise Roll:

  1. Neither the PCs or the “monster(s)” are surprised
  2. The PCs are surprised.
  3. The “monster(s)” are surprised
  4. Both the PCs and the “monster(s)” are surprised

This leaves room for four different kinds of encounters every time a random encounter is rolled up inside a city. It also suggests four different kinds of information that can be conveyed to either the players or the Referee:

Neither the PCs or the “monster(s)” are surprised

This is a routine encounter where the group or individual encountered is doing something mundane. The PCs become aware of the existence of this group or individual and get the physical description of that group or individual that they are cultivating for public consumption (if they are in disguise, the PCs get a description of the disguise with no hint that it is a disguise).

The PCs are surprised.

This is a new bit of information for the Referee. The group or individual encountered is actively hunting the PCs. The word “hunting” can mean something different depending on which group or individual is doing the hunting. In some cases it may mean spying, in others it may mean recruiting or being pressed into service, in others it may mean an audience with the leader of said group or it could simply mean that the PCs have a group or individual that has decided that they need to be killed off.

The “monster(s)” are surprised

This is a situation where the PCs encounter the group or individual doing something with their public face off. They might catch the Thieves’ Guild during a heist, a mercenary group escorting a person of interest to a secret meeting, get a glimpse of a monster underneath a mask, the Mage Guild and its allies the Nameless kidnapping an adventurer, etc.

Both the PCs and the “monster(s)” are surprised

This is a combination of the previous two encounters. Rather than just seeing the nefarious/secret goings on, the PCs become aware that they are the target of said activity.

Using this system, of course, requires either an ability to improvise on the part of the Referee or some prep time where each group/individual on an encounter table is detailed out to include what exactly each type of encounter is going to look like.

Personally, I prefer a more improvisational approach because it allows me to be surprised as a Referee in much the same way my players get to experience surprise. It also allows me to tailor such encounters to the needs of the campaign as it unfolds. For example, players tend to bring various NPCs into their fold. Including these NPCs into a surprise encounter can bring a level of depth to a campaign that wouldn’t be possible by pre-planning every encounter, especially if that NPC is perceived to have betrayed the party.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Callinicus the Martyr of Gangra in Asia Minor

Today is the feast of St. Callinicus the Martyr of Gangra in Asia Minor. He was born to a Christian family in Cilicia (southern part of modern-day Turkey). In the early part of the 4th century, he became a wandering preacher, bringing many to Christ. Upon coming into the Galatian city of Ancyra (central part of modern-day Turkey) he was arrested by Governor Sacerdonus, a fierce prosecutor of Christians.

After resolutely refusing to denounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the idols despite being beaten with ox thongs and having his flesh torn with iron hooks, shoes with nails directed inwards were placed on his feet and he was paraded through the streets to the city of Ganga. The soldiers who were escorting him ran short of water, and asked that the saint pray to his God for relief. A spring welled up out of the ground to quench their thirst. Once in Gangra, the saint was burned at the stake. Despite being given the crown of martyrdom, his body remained incorrupt.


The Shoes of St. Arz


These magical shoes appear to be torture devices made of metal with spikes affixed to the soles of the shoes designed to penetrate the foot of the wearer; however, they give off a magical aura if detected for. Should anyone be brave enough to put these shoes on, they suffer 1d6 hp of damage, cannot remove to shoes until death (even with a Remove Curse spell) and can only surprise on a roll of ‘1’ instead of 1-2 on a d6. The wearer of these shoes cannot die of thirst, is immune to all normal fire, takes half damage from magical fire and may make a saving throw to reduce any damage from magical fire to 0.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Rogue One Rant

Recently, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story appeared on Netflix. To be honest, after enduring Star Wars VII, I was not particularly interested in this movie despite all the rave reviews. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to sleep the other day and decided to see if Disney’s take on what has already been covered in Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama was boring enough to put me to sleep. I made it to about the 40-minute mark.

Here is the thing: all of us already know this story. We all knew going into the movie that rebel agents would steal the Death Star plans and get killed delivering this vital information to Princess Leia. If this last bit came as a surprise, evidently the pitched battle at the beginning of A New Hope was not a big enough clue, or, as I mentioned above, you haven’t listened to the Radio Drama (and you really should).


Therefore, plot was not a tool the writers had when writing this script. There was no plot twist, turn or surprise that was going to change the outcome of this movie. The only real option in stories like these is character development. In the case of the story supposedly covered in Rogue One there are three basic characters:

  1. The Empire
  2. The Rebellion
  3. The Agent who gets killed

Thus, the job of the writer is to ask a couple of questions:

  • What motivates The Agent to be willing to die?
  • Is The Rebellion/The Empire worth dying for?

Answering these questions can make for a gripping story despite the fact that we know the plot. For example: The Patriot has a basic plot that we all know: the American Revolution. The movie, however, was not about the American Revolution. It was about how Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, went from being a guilt-ridden combat veteran who wanted nothing to do with the war to becoming a Patriot.


As a post-Christian movie, Rogue One failed miserably on this front. While they did provide us with a bunch of cool characters, not one of them had any real depth and the movie never really bothered to give us an arc to understand why these people were willing to die for the Rebellion. Further, the portrayal of the other two main characters (The Rebellion and The Empire) was fraught through with relativism.

The Rebellion was portrayed as a fractured, schizophrenic movement that really didn’t know what it wanted to be, all the while doing whatever it took to survive including murdering its own and committing acts of terrorism. The assumption here is that simply taking on the mantel “The Rebellion” automatically makes these people the good guys; however, being rebels does not a good character make. For example, the Bolshevik Revolution executed around 1000 political prisoners a month into the early 1920s.

The Empire was portrayed as an entity that wanted to bring peace to the galaxy at all cost, up to and including the use of a super weapon; however, having and using a super weapon does not an evil character make. The U.S. is the only country to ever actually use a nuclear weapon in war. The U.S. did so to end WWII and it is arguable that not only did its use save lives, but that the cause for which they used that weapon is one of the greatest countries ever to exist (warts and all).

So, 40 minutes into the movie I didn’t understand why the Rebellion was so important to save because they were portrayed as not being much better than the Empire and I certainly didn’t understand why all these cool characters were so willing to run off and die to save it.

Back when Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas I was hopeful that new life would be pumped into the franchise after the bitter disappointment of Episodes I-III. Unfortunately, Disney has proven once again why I trust Hollywood about as far as I can throw a bantha. All they have done is produce movies that make Episodes I-III look good in comparison. After all, no matter how badly they were done, at least George Lucas attempted to answer the question as to why Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.