A Demon Haunted World: Human Races

In my Demon Haunted World humans come in three (down from four) flavors. Below are my first passes at the three races written up for Swords & Wizardry.

The Heirs

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

The meek have inherited the earth.  Over ninety-five percent of humanity has no touch or ability with magic or the supernatural.  Most of them live entire lives unaware of the world of the mystical or of the adventurous part of reality. Such unaware lives are not always blissful as it might seem.  Millions of The Heirs thrill to books of action and adventure to fulfill the yearning of their souls for wonder and achievement although fewer do each year with more and more doing it via pictures and movies that provide a thrill while dulling the very instrument of wonder the mind.

Yet even now a handful rebel.  By chance or design (theirs or others) they see a demon or befriend a wizard.  As such they become adventurers in the Demon Haunted World

Examples: Zander from Buffy and Gunn from Angel.

Requirements: None
Ability Adjustments: None
Bonuses: To saving throws against magical wands, staves, rods, and spells based on constitution: 3-8 +1, 9-12 +2, 13 and higher +3
Penalties:

  1. May not be any spell casting class.
  2. Each time they use a magical items if will fail to operate on a 1 on a d6.  For constant items check when first used (such as putting on a ring).  Test magical weapons and armors at the beginning of each combat.

The Blooded

Yet it is not the meek alone that remain among men.  There are still men and women who can touch the magics left both by the Old Ones and by the powers that oppose them.  For them The Demon Haunted World is not an adventuresome reality they can discover or seek out but their heritage.  Every generation a handful cast off their birth right but remain in the world of magic.  Of those who do a handful go on to become the freebooters and adventurers of today.

Examples: Harry Potter at the spell casting end while Giles the Watcher from Buffy is a perfect example of a little or no spell casting Blooded.

Requirements: Intelligence 12 or Wisdom 12
Ability Adjustments: None
Bonuses:

  1. Inherent magics: At creation pick one common 1st level spell.  The character may cast this spell once per day with a casting level equal to half his level, rounded up.
  2. Minor magics: Even non-wizard Blooded may use minor magics for usual daily chores using the minor magic rule.  Available effects are based on their Inherent magic.

Penalties: While attuned to magical effects they are somewhat divorced for the more mundane world and have a -2 saving throw against everything except magical effects such as poison and breath weapons.

The Touched

The blood of the magical runs in many a mundane veins, often due to an ancestor who was Blooded but turned their back on the magical world.  As a result even the most mundane of families produce those attuned to the magic in this world from birth.  Often the result is presumed insanity often followed by the real thing, but some find or are found by those who see The Demon Haunted World.  Ironically, many great wizards are found among them, perhaps gaining new perspective by seeing magic without the assumptions of a magical family.
The Touched are the default race of A Demon Haunted World, fulfilling the role of humans in Swords & Wizardry.

Examples: Heirmone Granger from Harry Potter and Willow from Buffy

Requirements: None
Ability Adjustments: None
Bonuses: None
Penalties: None

These are all first draft and suggestions and hints are welcome.

One specific idea I’d like comment on was The Blooded were originally allowed to use wands as a nod mostly the Harry Potter.  I removed it as I considered having it in addition to the spell ability was too much.  That said, giving them only expanded magic item usage would make the idea of a being a Blooded Wizard pointless.  Ideas on walking that line are welcome.

Artistic Inspiration: Frank Schoonover’s A Princess of Mars

Dejah Thoris had raised herself upon one elbow and was watching the battle with wide, staring eyes. When I had regained my feet I raised her in my arms and bore her to one of the benches at the side of the room.

While I grew up with the Michael Whelan cover for A Princess of Mars a while back I discover this cover to the first book edition (it originally appeared in All-Story Magazine and fell in love with its style which, like much illustration of the period, showed Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau influences.

Frank Schoonover was an American artist of the grand age of book and magazine illustration. Born in 1877 he would study with the great Howard Pyle and begin an illustrating career in the 1890s. In terms of fantasy art he illustrated King Arthur and the Arabian Knights as well as Burroughs for various publications. He also illustrated a variety of pirate and similar adventure books.

Building a Better Dungeon Key

In writing the rough draft of a review to appear later this month I wound up reading this section from the classic Runequest adventure Snakepipe Hollow by Greg Stafford and Rudy Kraft.  It was  also used in some Judges Guild modules. I consider it a great format, especially for those new to designing location oriented adventure. Just reading it probably helps defeat some common assumptions (such as dungeon design being static).  It also provides excellent organization.

DESCRIPTION OF AREAS
Each room will be organized in the following manner:

INITIAL DIE ROLLS: This will have the chance of a certain event or the presence of certain creatures stated as a single 1D100 roll. Some rooms may always be empty or always have the same thing in them. Those will have “none” in this category. If a later roll contradicts results obtained in an earlier roll, the earlier roll takes priority (i.e. if a die roll has stated that Joe was in room 2 sleeping, he cannot later be in room 17 carving a turkey unless the referee feels that he would have had time to shift and could reasonably be expected to have so shifted).

FIRST GLANCE:It includes the size and shape of the room as well as any outstanding features. Also included here will be an indication of what type of rock the room is made of.

CLOSER LOOKS: Significant details, some of which will be misleading and/or unimportant.

EXITS: They will specifically state each of the possible exits from each room, where they lead to, whether they slope up or down, and any important details which need to be mentioned about the passageways between rooms (also included here are the types of rock through which these ways pass).
HIDDEN SPOTS: Included in this section will be the time it takes one person to search a room (See Found Items section for explanation of search procedure) and the chances of a found item being present. Also included is the existence of other items or places which can only be found via a Spot Hidden Item roll.

TRAPS: This is a description of where any traps in the room are as well as how they are set off and what effect they will have.

DENIZENS: This section will give the important information on what ever monsters or being live in the room. If this section says non, it means that no monster makes his regular home here but it may still be possible via the Initial Die Roll for monsters to be present.

TREASURE: This section describes the appearance, power, and values of all treasure items found in the room (except of course the found items which are explained in their own section).

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Assorted odds and ends which doesn’t really fit into any other category.

The mentioned found items section basically says, when characters search roll the found item percentage to see if there is something to find. If there is make the Spot Hidden Item role for the searching character (if more than one character is searching pick one and only one to roll for). If they fail to find it they can try again at half value. If they do, roll on a big chart of items (20 in this case) to find which one, re-rolling if you get one already found.

Sure, if I was writing this up I might wind up with a page of material per room excluding stat blocks.  However, for a new Dungeon Master that might not be a bad idea. Even for a more experienced hand using this format in a one per sheet or index card with numbers in a corner might find it easier to search than the traditional list on a piece of paper.

Artistic Inspiration: Warwick Globe


She took up the jewel in her hand, left the palace, and successfully reached the upper world

Warwick Globe was a children’s book illustrator of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. His specialties were exotic scenes of the Far East and fairy tales. Often appearing in Pearson’s Magazine he illustrated a number of early science fiction stories including many by Frederick Merrick White and a little tale called The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.

The above image is from a 1912 volume entitled Folk Tales of Bengal by Rev. Lal Behari Day.

Silver Age Appendix N: The Belgariad

Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

So reads the back cover of a Del Ray fantasy novel released in 1982. That book, Pawn of Prophecy, would kick off one of the most successful fantasy series and fantasy writing careers of the past twenty years. David Edding’s Belgariad is the epitome of the world saving quest fantasy series that would dominate fantasy literature in the 80s and the 90s. While lacking the grand depth of Tolkien’s singular achievement it contains the major elements of medieval quest literature (Eddings held a Masters of Arts in Middle English) and is firmly rooted in fantastic literature from the medieval world on.

My personal relationship with the series is mixed. I got into it between the publication of the third and fourth book, having resisted due to two teenage trends, rejecting the popular and idealism (the quickness they came out seemed fake). At the time I devoured them and awaited the fifth book anxiously (the fourth having come out while I was reading the third). About a decade later an attempt to reread failed to get me through the first book and I put them in the “things that didn’t having staying power from my youth”. However, I recently reread them prepping to run a game for some people I know in the local music scene and consumed them in either seven or eight days and enjoyed them thoroughly.

The series follows a fairly standard path. Garion, a farmer boy, spends his early life in the care of his aunt until one evening an old storyteller reappears and leads them off on the quest to recover a magic gem. Along the course of their journey they travel every land in the obligatory maps at the front of each novel, ancient prophecy is fulfilled, a war is fought with the followers of an evil god, a fated group of companions is assembled, and Garion finds a destiny much greater than that of a farm boy. You’ve read it a dozen times. It was old even before Eddings wrote it and has become downright cliche since he did. Yet he was able to fashion a very good novel with only a handful of flaws, mostly of language and slight omission, especially in the last book.

What then makes Eddings in my mind the epitome of the 80s fantasy quest to save the world and an huge influence on those who took up D&D at the time it was published. In my mind there are two main influences he brought to bear on fantasy RPGs: a literary realism and a knowledge of pre-Tolkein influences which imparted a fairly formalized structure. Although there are many other influences he had, especially on the path of fantasy literature, I want to concentrate on these two.

Eddings had earlier published a mainstream novel in the early seventies and spent most of that decade trying to publish more. In his later book of series background, The Rivan Coex, he admits the success of Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson lead him to take up a mythical map he had placed away in a drawer to not distract from serious work. While earlier writers had introduced politics, weather, and other travails of everyday life these had fallen into two broad categories. The first, exemplified by the storm on Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings, treated even mundane items as part of the magical framework. The second, exemplified by Kurtz’s early 70s novels, placed the mundane in charge and basically put a fantasy patina on fairly conventional novels. The later was common enough by the mid-70s to inspire Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay From Elfland to Poughkeepsie on what made fantasy more than trapping. Eddings’s succeeds in walking a line between the two.

Eddings admires Tolkien but has knowledge of the same sources that Tolkien drew on and was influenced by them as well. In fact, in the above mentioned Rivan Codex, he criticized later fantasy writers for thinking the genre began with Tolkien. The result was a kind of formalism that later fantasy literature would imitate. This shows most directly in two ways. First, each and every country on his map is visited. In fact, he uses this fact to structure the books into segments that, with two exceptions, carry the name of someplace on the map. The second is the usage of character archetypes. Instead of the fighter, magic-user, cleric, etc that D&D players know he used types more familiar to mainstream and medieval literature: “the wise man”, “the knight protector”, “the princess”, and “the questing knight”.

Which brings us to Eddings’s role in influencing Silver Age D&D and later fantasy literature. As James M has pointed out the Silver Age was about realism. The Dragon had many articles in the same time frame about weather, encumbrance, what horses could really do, and so on. Each reflected the same concern with making sure the world seemed real while being magical that the Belgariad did. Up until that time a common refrain in the letters column and around game tables was fantasy couldn’t be real. I think the power of a popular, well written fantasy series showing the exact opposite weakened that camp and gave their opponents some justification.

The most easily seen influence on fantasy literature, however, is in his character archetypes. Unlike Brooks or even Dragonlance he uses historical archetypes directly instead of through the lens of Middle Earth. It is also here that I lay down my opposition to an idea that game writers as diverse as Ron Edwards (in Sword & Sorcerer) and James Maliszewski (in How Dragonlance Ruined Everything) have championed. Their argument is fantasy literature, as a commercial genre, is now dominated by the influence of D&D and similar games. Maliszewski even goes so far as to specifically reject claims that the blame rests with Brooks by saying Dragonlance was known to more D&D players who went to become the next generation of fantasy authors.

My counter argument is simple. In drawing on medieval archetypes directly Eddings wound up with an all human cast (although one member was technically a Dryad) where the archetypes expressed national differences, not race ones. If Dragonlance was the dominant later influence, or even Tolkien or Brooks, then we would expect a party of elven archers, dower dwarfs, and so on just as we see in D&D all the way down to fourth edition. In literature, however, the names that would dominate the best seller lists and just the genre section are overwhelmingly human centric with the diversity of types provided by nations and cultures. Excluding Eddings, who would be a best seller through the 90s, we have Mercedes Lackey, Robert Jordan, Anne Bishop, Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Haydon, Katherine Kerr, and L. E. Modesitt, Jr just to start. Lackey and Jordan alone would argue that Dragonlance was not the major influence on the period. In fact, outside of the RPG based novels such as Dragonlance and The Forgotten Realms the only major elvy/dwarfy writers in the period are Brooks and Dennis McKiernan who both pre-date Eddings by several years.

There is also the fact that Eddings was a published mainstream author who turned to fantasy for commercial reasons, at least in part. He did this in 1978 and would publish his first fantasy novel as the Dragonlance project was just beginning.

What is my final judgment? Anyone interested in the evolution of fantasy literature or gaming during the 80s should read The Belgariad. When Eddings passed away last June it didn’t raise much of a fuss. Many people saw him as another forgettable author of bog standard post-Brooks fantasy. Yet, I think he is as important in the establishment of fantasy as a separate commercial genre as Brooks and Donaldson were. While the latter two proved that the success of the Lord of the Rings was no fluke Eddings proved that quest fantasy that didn’t slavishly imitate Tolkien could be successful without being weird or edgy like Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant whose main character was so reprehensible that many people couldn’t get past a certain incident in the first book. The Belgariad created the pattern for fantasy series up through Jordan who finally abused the form to the point is fell out of favor (modern quest fantasy seems to have smaller horizons). I can’t promise you’ll like it but I can promise that if you read it in context with its times you gain a lot of understanding of modern fantasy.

A Demon Haunted World

Yesterday I wrote about using the background of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, specifically the show’s ancient history, as the setting of a Swords & Wizardry game. I specifically discounted the idea of using S&W for a modern world game in the setting.

Well, today I’m partially turning my back on that on that idea. I think a S&W supplement in a modern day world where the characters move in a shadow world populated by the last vestiges of the Old Ones is a great idea. I want to create a modern fantasy game not of the de Lint/Bull school (as much as I love War for the Oaks and similar novels) nor of the strictly horror genre but a modern swords and sorcery game of demon hunting, forbidden magics, and a parallel magical culture. Touch stones for such a game would obviously include Buffy and Angel. I would also add Neverwhere and the Harry Potter novels. For those wondering about the latter, it wandered in from discussions my Trollsmyth and d7 as well as here about appealing to Harry Potter fandom.

If nothing else I think such a project is an excellent response to the twin questions: how far can you stretch Classic D&D and will the OSR create something new or just repeat the past.

Thus, I’m announcing my S&W project, tentatively called A Demon Haunted World: Swords & Sorcery in the here and now. I’ll present pieces as I create them here at Places to Go, People to Be with at least one new piece every Thursday. I already have a character class, The Chosen, to replace clerics (and modeled on Buffy herself obviously). I also have some ideas on the economy of the magical world based on gold but with different values and uses for different alloys and colors. Some fairly common (and some less common) rules for wizards already running around will be in, such as Light/Dark wizards, counter-spells, and wizard dueling. Finally, new races are already on the drawing boards with men divided into four kinds and half demons giving five racial options. Half demons will be a character class by themselves but the four types of men will have different class options (and advantages at certain classes).

The long term (Christmas 2010?) goal is to actually write this up as my entry into the pdf/print product market. I’ve been looking for something that spoke to me in a way that made me want to publish. Given my love of modern fantasy of all types I think this is it.

A Demon Haunted Past

This world is older than any of you know and, contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons demons walked the earth and made it their home…their Hell. In time they lost their purchase on this reality and the way was made for the mortal animals, for Man. What remains of the Old Ones are vestiges, certain magics, certain creatures…and Vampires

A quote from Lovecraft perhaps? Maybe it’s from August Derleth or even Clark Ashton Smith?

No, the above is actually Joss Whedon and from The Harvest, the second episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While the show was definitely about hip young people slaying modern demons (both of the life stage and supernatural kind) bits and pieces of this history would show up over the course of the series, especially in the seventh season, and would play a major role in the spin-off series Angel.

I find it interesting that what many gamers would consider a core swords and sorcery trope is at the core of Buffy. The show is very modern in its time period, its characters, and its sensibilities yet its core mythology, from the pilot on, is one that has great deal in common with the weird tale. Certainly, Whedon admits to being a horror fan. However, in the interviews I’ve seen it’s horror of a movie sort and it is a rare film, in my experience, that has any mythos much less one with a horrific demon haunted past. That said, despite its similarity it does miss some of the elements in the Lovecraftian past. While the Buffyverse is a universe where the struggle against evil never ends and most characters will eventually fail (an idea more obvious in Angel than in Buffy) it is still more heroic than fatalism. The heroism is in the struggle and even failure can be a defeat of evil.

Watching the entirety of both series (itself an enjoyable pastime) with a notebook in your lap could be a great way to “design” a setting for a game, especially one of the very flexible retro-clone like Swords & Wizardry.

No, I’m not saying you play S&W in the show’s modern setting (although that could be interesting). There already exists an excellent role-playing game for it. However, imagine taking the open to this post and all the various references to ancient demons, cults, religions, and magics through out the two series. Then set it among the ruins of Atlantis or some other pre-Sumerian civilization or even in a Hercules/Xena ancient world.

I suspect we might start seeing bits and pieces of A Demon Haunted Past showing up here every now and then.

Artistic Inspiration: John Williams Waterhouse 1

I am half-sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott

Waterhouse was one of the last of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This image of The Lady of Shalott entitled I am half-sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott was the last of three on the subject Waterhouse would do and dates to 1915. It displays a lot of similarities with his Penelope and the Suitors of 1912.

The subject is taken from theTennyson poem of the same name which in turn based on Elaine of Astolat. Interestingly Tennyson would include the story, using Elaine of Astolat directly, in The Idylls of the King.

Silver Age Appendix N: Intro

One of the more interesting ideas James M has followed over at Grognardia is his Pulp Fantasy Library which concentrates on literature that influenced Gygax and others at the beginning and similar literature.

What is in interesting is the pulp fantasy revival of the late 60s and 70s was part of a much larger fantasy literature revival. While Gygax’s tastes may not have drifted heavily into the realms of non-pulp fantasy the tastes of many who took up D&D were decided non-pulp fantasy. I think taking a look at the fantasy literature in broad print from 1974 (when D&D left home for school as it were) to 1984 (when Dragonlance ushered in the Silver Age of D&D).

With that in mind I’m adding a new irregular set of posts (given my reliability in posting I’m loathe to call it a series) called Silver Age Appendix N. It will focus on those fantasy and science fantasy books and authors who had a broad presence in the late 70s and early 80s. These authors not only shaped how people in the second and especially third generation of D&D players approached the game they influenced fantasy literature at large. Some grognards like to claim that gaming fantasy novels of the late 80s irrevocably changed fantasy literature. They fail to appreciate how these authors directly and indirectly influenced influenced the path of AD&D II and fantasy literature at least into the 90s and even to today. To the degree that gaming literature such as Dragonlance changed the fantasy literature market it did so in the context of authors like Terry Brooks and David Eddings.

We’ll be starting off later this week with what I consider the perfect 80s quest fantasy series (for both good and ill), The Belgariad.