Random Campaign Idea: Make the Magic Go Away

For generations we have opposed the Fae. We wish to farm and raise families, build our own cities, and generally live our lives as men. They twist the world into their images of beauty whose form change every day. Woods that one day provide apples good for baking the next will provide red fruits which burst into flocks of butterflies. With such wonders they have stolen our children and left our lands barren.

We cannot match their mystery and magic but we have one advantage, iron. None born of the Fae and few among the Stolen can bear to touch it, much less wield it. But mere swords of steel were not enough to stop their sorceries. We needed sorceries of our own.

Now we have them. Great edificies of gears and rods, powdered by steam not magic, are our sorcery. Let the Fae cast their spells that can twist wood or raise the waters. They cannot stop a fist of iron the size of a man or drown a ship of steel driven by the fires of a thousand pounds of coal.

Now we will claim the land and make their magic go away.

A steampunk world where humanity, chaffing as the second fiddle to elves for millenia, has invented grand technology to combat magic. For as long as anyone can remember the Fae have stolen children and enslaved humans. No human nation has lasted past its founders great-grandchildren before drifting away for lack of children or outright conquest.

But in deep caves and hidden groves men have been working. Forging tools of metal, first bronze and now the dark iron that burn the Fae at a mere touch. Charcoal flames, first used to just bend metal are now used to move it. The modern human nations in just two generations have turned two millenia of hidden human research and oral traditions into their own magic, that of steam. Now they are ready to strike back.

You can be human defenders of nations under siege, warriors striking at elven woods, or great steam mechanics building the weapons of the day. Participate in scorched earth campaigns where elven forests are cut down and cooked into charcoal to fire the great and lesser machines of war. Or perhaps you are an elf…a traitor to your kind sickened by the treatment of man but trusted by neither sign or elven commandos send to destroy the infernal factories and gear plants.

Steam powered power armor, primitive cybernetics, swords of meteor iron, and most of all the power of the assembly line making the later are pit against ancient elven magics. This would probably work best is something like BESM, M&M, or regular D20 with all the steam supplements. If going retro-clone the best choice would probably be S&W or another minimalist set. No human magic users but one of the many inventor type classes out there would be perfect. A typical D&D end game could focus on reclaiming lands haunted by the greatest monsters of all: elves.

For literary source, the creepy fae required could easily be found in the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang. Steampunk could be Victorian/Edwardian proto-scifi or more modern material.

Magic Users in Dawnage D&D

Jeff Rients has the second of a series on a campaign at the beginning of history.

I had a random thought reading it. One of the things people claim to like about B/X is the limited spell selection. Magic-users get one spell per daily slot and have to specialize. There is a great deal of argument about spell research allowing you to exceed this count or not.

A dawn age campaign can get the same effect without limiting spells known by a different method: limited spells lists. At the beginning of time no one will have created a lot of spells. I would consider limiting the spell lists, perhaps even beyond those in B/X. While lots of 1st level spells might be known I’d trim the lists as spell level went up.

Given OD&D only went to level 7 (or was it level 5, I don’t have my books here) I’d work from highest level down. There would be 1 7th level spell known, 1 6th level, 2 5th level, 2 4th level, 4 3rd level, 4 2nd level, and a mere 8 1st level spells. All others would have to be researched or learned from their creator. You can choose different numbers but you get the idea.

This would also allow a variant of 2nd edition type specialist magic users from the Unearthed Arcania netbook. Instead of specializing by college, specialize by tradition. In the netbook a tradition is based on spell names that contain a magic user’s name. Joining a tradition might give access to twice the spells or even the first 8th and 9th level spells. It could also provide an endgame option. Allowed a name level magic-user to create a tradition if he has researched his own spells of each level available and specialize in his own tradition.

You could get more complicated such as spells from a previous tradition founded by his master and so on. The idea is to have the players’ magic users inventing the magic of the ages that follow instead of digging up that of ages that preceded.

Monday Pointers: June 7, 2010 Edition

D4:An interesting anti-mage
The Mule Abides has an interesting take on someone who doesn’t cast spells, but counter or control the spells of others.  I can’t personally think of an archetype in literature although I’m sure there is one.  I think this could be a very good character for a S&S game that concentrates on magic being the province of villains not characters.

D6:Custom Dice at Home
Have you needed Fudge dice or other custom D6 but couldn’t find them? Well, break out the iron and open source them.

My thanks to Dr. Holmes

I write a column for the local monthly arts and entertainment paper. My territory is gaming and re-enactment. While I generally don’t post it here I thought my readers would appreciate the May Power Word Herb:

Dr. John Eric Holmes, R.I.P.

When Gary Gygax passed it was big enough news to make NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “The Cobert Report”. A year later when Dave Arneson, the other credited author of the first version of Dungeons and Dragons, passed it didn’t make the big news, but word spread quickly in the roleplaying community. The same happened when Tom Moldvay, author of the first red box, died in 2007. I’m sure when the author of the second iconic red box version, Frank Mentzer, passes it will be news in the community as many learned to play from that versions.

None of those men, however, authored the version of D&D I and most of the second generation of players, learned from. For those who remember (or own the Great Unwashed Lumaries boxed set) the first D&D image was the blue and white dragon cover of the first basic D&D (although it was not called basic). The author of that set was John Eric Holmes, MD. He died on March 20, 2010, and the gaming community didn’t notice until May.

The original boxed set of D&D, aimed primarily at minatures gamers, was poorly organized and included many assumptions. While minatures gamers would know these assumptions people who weren’t would get lost. This was true of the supplements to it as well. After D&D’s explosion TSR needed something more accessible to a broader audience. Dr. Holmes was hired, after he volunteered, to write an introductory version of D&D.

Dr. Holmes would go on to write a series of stories and one novel that are arguably the earliest gaming fiction. Three stories of Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf were published in “The Dragon” after the first appeared in the classic (and still running) gamer APA “Alarums & Excursions”. The novel was published by Space & Time.

His greatest gaming or fantasy writing success, though, was a novel of Pellucidar, Edgar Rice Burrough’s world in the hollow earth, authorized by the Burrough’s estate. “Mahars of Pellucidar” was published by Ace in 1976. He would also collaborate with Burrough’s son, who was also a patient of Holmes, although the novel was never finished. Another Pellucidar’s novel publication was blocked by the Burrough’s estate.

Finally, Holmes was a doctor. Given that the high point of his career might have been “Basic Human Neurophysiology”. He would also write a variety of non-fiction articles for a wide swath of science fiction and gaming publications. He also wrote about D&D for “Psychology Today” in “Confessions of a Dungeon Master”.

Dr. Holmes taught me to play D&D at ten and thus introduced me to a lifetime hobby. I am far from alone. He should be remembered and remembered fondly as the Doctor of D&D. Or at least remembered as RPG’s first fanboy made good.