Silver Age Appendix N: The Coming of the Horseclans

Prophecy written in blood!

After two hundred years of searching for other immortals, the Undying High Lord Milo Morai has returned the Horseclans to fulfill an ancient prophecy and lead them to their destined homeland by the sea.

The first Horseclans novel,The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams, was early enough that it barely misses pre-dating the original Dungeons and Dragons. While the author, Robert Adams, would average a book a year in the seventies the series really hit its heyday in the early eighties. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that many of those fans were D&D players looking for something to inspire or feel like playing their favorite game.

The world of the Horseclans is a post-holocaust United States ranging from later this century (World War III having happened in 1980) to the cusp of the third millenium. In this future humanity has two races: normal humans and mutants whose aging stops in roughly their thirties and who are immune to most wounds. At the beginning of The Coming of the Horseclans Milo Morai, one of these mutants, is leading a migration of the Horseclans from the Sea of Grass to their mythical home city of Ehlee on the east coast of North America. In the aftermath of the war, Milo rescued a group of children who will become the ancestors of the Horseclans and instructs them in the ways of horse nomands before leaving them to search for a mythical land inhabited by people like him. Accompanying them are their allies the Horse clan (horses are free citizens of the Horseclans, not owned beasts) and the Cat clan of sabertooth tiger like praire cats. The Horseclans communicate with their animal allies and each other by a ubiquetous telepathy.

In the the centuries since the war the world has changed both due to natural diasters and human migrations. The most dramatic of these migrations revealed in this book is the Ehleen invasions of North America. The Ehleens are Greek speaking people from Europe. Dwelling along in several kingdoms along the Atlantic seaboard they are the principle opposition to the migration of the Horse Clans. Coming of the Horseclans plot centers on the conquest of Kehnooryos Ehlas, until a few years before the novel the most powerful of these kingdoms. Several battles, raids, and duels make up the novel. Finally, one of the more interesting aspects of the Horseclans’ world, the mysterious witchmen, make a brief appearance.

If I had to select one word to describe this book it is violent. R. E. Howard and Jack London’s belief that civilization is a corrupting influence is writ large. While the Horseclans keep slaves and look down on the dirtman farmers they conquer they maintain a strict code of honor and morality that disdains killing and lying. However, the corruption of civilization goes very deep and many of the Ehleens are pedophiles among other perversions. In fact, the sexual aspects, especially of the depraved characters, are not completely glossed over and the reader should have fair warning that sexual multilations are described with some detail in a few sections. The book also portrays homosexuality as a corruption of civilization. It is certainly openly offensive to modern sensibilities. It was, even in its time, a bit of a throw back to early 20th century in morality and ideals. It added in the graphic description available to a 70s author.

Adams would go on to write seventeen more Horseclans novels over the next thirteen years as well as two shared worlds anthologies with fans. The first book, however, was no clearly the first of a series. Later copies, in fact, added two short preludes to set up Milo’s return to the Horseclans that were not in the original printing. Given it’s age and content it might be surprising that I consider it appropriate for Silver Age Appendix N. There are three reasons I do. First, the series it spawned would hit its height of popularity about the time I graduated from high school in 1985 and stay there through Adam’s death in 1990. It first gets reviewed and discussed in The Dragon in the mid-eighties. Second, it would be one of the first GURPS source books and the first of their very successful run of one shoot licensed source books. Finally, for a men’s action series it has an unusually large female fan base. The best theory I have heard on this is many women bought the fourth book, A Cat of a Silvery Hue, based on the title.

Until recently Coming of the Horseclans has been out of print, but in the past couple of years Mundania Press brought the first book back into print. It used to be easily found at used bookstore, as well, but in the past five or so years it seems to have gotten rare. If you want some “new” swords and sorcery fiction to inspire your game I can’t recommend it enough.

Monday Pointers: February 22, 2010 Edition

D4:Chronicles of Drenai RPG

The late David Gemmell wrote great swords and sorcery. His longest, and I suspect most popular series, was the Drenai series. I was introduced to it via Legend when Gary Gygax’s New Infinities Productions published it as Against the Horde. Now, Dareil over at The Madman’s Cave gives us an RPG purpose built for that world. It has some interesting ideas, such as combat being a save against fear and your “score” as a product of your points for both heroic and anti-heroic actions. In spirit it reminds me a lot of Pendragon because it provides mechanics for the kinds of passions that drive Gemmell’s characters. Well worth a look for those interested in swords and sorcery and experimental ideas.

D6:The Lost Fort: Roman and Medieval History

My historical interests via the SCA and boffer LARPS is sub-Roman and Anglo-Saxon England. This website is a great source for someone interested in that period by Gabriele Campbell. The pictures alone qualify as an entire blog of inspirational images for RPGers. I appologize to whoever in the OSR bloggosphere first posted this because I forgot to put it in my notes.

D8:Some Considerations of Polite Society

I’m of two minds on this post. One, I’m glad to see more people taking up the idea that RPG groups should meet basic standards of courtesy even if the stereotype and expectations of the gaming community are otherwise. In fact, that we should even as society is abandoning them. On the other hand, that we need it seems to reinforce the fact that Miss Manners Wouldn’t Play D&D. On the gripping hand, the battle to restore etiquette, dark or otherwise, in our culture at learge and our community in particular can always use a new leader.

D10:How Many Books Will You Need for a Decade of Gaming

If you’re Chris that number is five. Think about it, he got a decade of playing out of five books. That’s old school and doubly so when you read the books he used.

D12:Play Style and “Fun”

Meanwhile, one of our young ones (who I don’t want off my lawn but maybe she could mow it while she’s over) takes on the theory geeks with some practical rules on playstyles. A lot of them are basics we probably know but don’t think about. They also point out something we should remember when we discuss what “old school” means. It’s not one playstyle but a bunch of mostly compatible. If Oddysey is the future of our hobby my great-grand kids will be playing D&D in a traditional style.

D13:People Link to Me

While I love being linked to I feel bad when I brag about it. So, at the very least I can make it a D13. That said, both of my posts this past Saturday were picked up at Old School Rant. I’m listed under “The Bad” but I think that’s because my PDF topic is about what’s wrong not that I’m wrong.

And that’s a Monday wrap. If this isn’t the biggest pointers (excluding the D13) it must be close. This week will have a delayed post in the Silver Age series (it was supposed to be this weekend while baby sitting server upgrades but the PDF rant pushed its way in instead). I have four of the things outlined so one should be finished already. We’ll also have inspirational art, either a buried treasure or a review, and hopefully a follow-up from Dream Pod 9 (maybe we’ll hear from White Wolf on the topic too).

Dream Pod 9 Responds

Having criticized Dream Pod 9’s PDF pricing and having sent an email to their website’s contact email address with a link to my post I believe I have a responsibility to share the company’s response:

Thank you for the feedback, I’m going to bring up your email and concerns at our next staff meeting on this Monday night. I know we have not touched the price of the old ebooks since they were first put on sale when www.drivethrurpg.com started many years ago and we followed their pricing model at the start. I’ll get back to you later this week and let you know what we decide.

Sincerely,
Robert Dubois
President Dream Pod 9

I got that on a Sunday morning. That alone deserves praise. I had figured a response was 50/50 at best and certainly wouldn’t come before the work week.

Second, I think the point about following guidelines from many years ago and not checking them is a satisfying answer. As this is the long tail I doubt a lot of effort is put into analyzing and optimizing sales. Why? In any company that effort would have to justify the cost of analysis and updating. In an RPG company that choice is often one between optimizing the long tail as opposed to producing new product.

That said, the fact that he is bringing it up at a staff meeting when a customer makes it a concern shows a commitment to customer service and an understanding that the analysis might pay off.

I cannot say if DP9 will change their pricing, but I will say their prompt response and willingness to look at it has raised my opinion of the company. Historically that has been neutral to good. My rant wasn’t one of anger but more frustration at a missed opportunity.

PDF Costs and Screwing Up the Long Tail

Yesterday reading MJ Harnish over at Gaming Brouhaha reminded me of a game I always wanted to run: Tribe 8. Now, my books are somewhere in Connecticut but I figured a trip to RPGNow could net me a low cost PDF. This was doubly true after I learned in the Wikipedia article on the game that the second edition player’s handbook moved the timeline ahead fifteen years. Now, instead of wading through metaplot books to see where the world was going naturally I could build a quick timeline. Given one reason I never ran Tribe 8 was just how damned metaplot heavy it was this was great.

I haven’t bought any Tribe 8 PDFs. Why? That second edition player’s handbook that retailed for $29.95 is available for $24.95. Most of the rest of the line is a little better with the PDF selling at half the cost of the original print product. This still leaves the most inexpensive book at $7.95.

For comparison several of the books are available on eBay with shipping for less than the original cover price. That’s for a physical item with no need to print out pages I need or want to mark up (although admittedly I often photocopy pages for mark-up). One book, Warrior Unbound, is actually available for exactly the same price with shipping from eBay as the PDF (it’s a “Buy it now”, not an auction). Moving to Amazon three copies of the first edition rulebook are under the $13.95 price of PDF. Given the second edition required an external rulesbook this isn’t trivial. Finally, Alibris who is already courting me with a coupon has nearly the entire series as physical books for less than the PDFs.

Right now the PDFs have one advantage, immediacy. This would have been a huge score as the trip to RPGNow was an impulse. However, when getting the rules in PDF, with all the disadvantages for that format (readability, requires a machine at the table or printing out) is comparable to buying the physical product in terms of price I won’t be buying. If the interest continues I’ll purchase physical books at comparable or slightly higher prices.

While I’m concentrating on Tribe 8 Dreampod 9 is far from alone in this. White Wolf follows the same policy for the old World of Darkness. Contrast that with Fantasy Flight Games. Their very popular Midnight setting for D&D3 has no product priced at more than $10 and that’s for the core setting book. The supplements are uniformly $7, a price nearly a dollar less than the cheapest Tribe 8 book. When it comes to impulse buying of PDFs $10 seems to be a good ceiling. At $10 I would be reading the core book again instead of writing this.

I understand that the pricing of PDFs as primary products or when they are directly competing with brand new, in print books is a complex subject. However, that’s not what we’re discussing here. Both the old World of Darkness and Tribe 8 last saw a physical book printed in 2004. Neither line is currently in print nor will be in the foreseeable future. For new players of the game lines or continuing players looking to add or replace material there are two markets: used products or publisher PDFs. Actually, there is a third, pirated PDFs. Only one of these three makes publishers any money.

These products have either been fully amortized or never will be. They are not major profit centers nor do the PDFs directly compete with another product stream from the publisher. In WW case they might compete against nWOD but then again so do used oWoD books and the same issue arise. Dreampod 9 and WW have both lost PDF sales from me due to their pricing. I suspect I’m far from alone. Reducing these lines to $10 for core and thicker books and $5 for adventures and thinner books might look like a large loss. However, given the probable sales volume at this point compared to the volume in the secondary market finding a sweet spot that increases sales while not leaving the money on the table shouldn’t be that hard.

And everyone likes more revenue.

It May Be Five Years Old

and for 3.x but this ad speaks to the true power of tabletop in the video game age:

It’s also why I haven’t really gotten around to playing online. To me an RPG is sitting in a room with people I like playing a game and telling our story at the same time.

To me, that is the heart of the game and as old school as any dungeon crawl, home-made chart, or sandbox. The key thing is us in a room and our story.

Initiates of Mithras

Introduction

Mithras lead our people here when the false Emperor tried to lead them across the seas. He slew a bull in ritual and made its hide into his cloak. When he opened his cloak it became a door into his world. He had gathered us to help his people fight the great evil to the East only to find that during his wanderings they had tasted its corruption. Now we stand as a bulwark against that evil and its spreading corruption.

Those who were his closest followers learned the secrets of his ways and have taught those to worthy soldiers and others since we first came here. Now those initiated in the Mysteries of Mithras wander the world bringing light and purity to those threatened by darkness and corruption.

Class Statistics

Fights and saves as a fighter (but gains no special fighter abilities). May use any weapons, armor, and all magic items allowed fighters (with an exception, see the table).

At name level (Pater) they may create a Mithraeum, an underground windowless complex for the worship of Mithras. He will attract 5d6 individuals wishing to be initiated into the Mysteries (1st level Initates).

Experience Level Title Hit Dice Class Ability
0 1 Corax 1d8 Purify Food and Water (as per cleric spell)
1600 2 Nymphus 2d8 Light (as per cleric spell)
3200 3 Miles 3d8 Shield (as per magic-user spell)
9600 4 Miles 4d8
19,200 5 Leo 5d8 Thunder Bolts (magical bolts that always strike and do 2d4 damage)
40,000 6 Perses 6d8 Infravision
80,000 7 Heliodromus 7d8 Protection from Evil (10′ radius)
160,000 8 Heliodromus 8d8
320,000 9 Pater 9d8 May use any magical staff or rod (but not wands)
420,000 10 Pater 9d8+1
+100,000 +1 Pater +1

Ability Uses per Day

Level Purify Food and Water Light Shield Thunderbolts Protection from Evil 10′
1 1
2 1 1
3 1 1 1
4 2 1 2
5 2 1 2 3
6 2 1 2 3
7 2 2 2 3 1
8 2 2 2 3 2
9 2 2 2 6 2
10 3 2 2 10 3
11 3 2 2 10 3
12 3 2 3 10 3
13 3 3 3 10 4
14 3 3 3 10 4
15 4 3 3 21 4
16 4 3 3 21 5
17 4 4 4 21 5
18 4 4 4 21 5
19 5 4 4 28 6
20 5 4 4 36 6

Notes:

  1. This class was created using Erin Smale’s Perfect Class and is designed for a Rules Cyclopedia game using no weapons mastery rules.
  2. It should work fine in most of the retro-clones although if the RC abilities for fighters are not in use increase the XP required by 800/1600/3200/6400/13000/26000/52000/1040000 thereafter.
  3. If playing a RC game using weapons mastery lower the XP by 400/800/1600/3200/8000/1600/32000/64000/128000 there after.
  4. The titles are patterned after those in the Wikipedia article on the Mithratic Mysteries. The abilities are drawn from the symbols on the system.
  5. Mithras was mostly worshipped by soliders so this is mostly a fighter class.
  6. The abilities for the first eight levels are based on roughly the level 1-4 cleric progression. In Smale’s system I rated this as roughly 1/3 cleric ability due to the cut off at 4th level and the inflexibility.
  7. Infravision lasts 24 hours so instead of a per day usage I just made it a permenant ability.
  8. The staff/rod usage is costed as scroll usage in Smale’s system.
  9. In my campaign world Mithras was someone from that world who came to earth during the early Roman Imperial period and wandered the empire gaining followers to succur his people who were under attack by a great evil. He lead some of the last legions of out Britain when Constantine III crossed the English Channel but instead of leading them to the Continent he lead them to the campaign world.

Suggestions are very welcome.

As per the licensing page the material in this box is available under Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons.