Monday Pointers, 2014-10-27

D4: Possessing the Elf

As plenty of people have pointed out over the past 40 odd years, D&D elves have evolved into Mary Sues, basically prettier, more graceful humans that fight like fighters and cast like magic-users. What could be the reality of this pretty facade? An alternate take on the LotFP (and similar games) Elf class.

D6: What Do Spells Tell Us

In the tradition of exploring the OD&D implied setting an analysis of what setting the Fifth Edition spell lists imply.

D8: More Implications

Speaking of implied settings, what are the implications of the original Fiend Folio as an implied setting.

D10: Rifter Reviews

An entire blog’s worth.

LBB Albums

I know a lot of people associate older versions of D&D with metal music but arguably that’s a latter assumption. A comment on the standard short name for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen post over at Save Versus All Wands claimed it made the commenter think of Seven Seas of Rhye by Queen reminded me I’d been thinking about a 1974 soundtrack for gaming.

Some idea, please add your own:

  • Queen II by Queen
  • Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes
  • Fragile by Yes
  • Demons and Wizards by Uriah Heep
  • The Magician’s Birthday by Uriah Heep
  • 666 (The Apocalypse of John, 13/18) by Aphrodite’s Child

I know I skipped that you might expect but that would be my inspirational music circa 1974 (yes, yes, I know, no Led Zeppelin, sue me). Also, the BOC that would inspire me is later (only barely as On Your Feet or on Your Knees came out in 1975.

I’ve often wondered what my D&D would have been like if I’d been a mere five years old when I got Holmes in 1977 (16 instead of 11). I look back at what I can only call hippie fantasy art of the period from weird wizards (immortalized here in Atlanta by the Mellow Mushroom Pizza mushroom) to Yes album covers and think about the worlds I want to build from them now.

On a totally different tack The “What is the OSR” d20 chart, specifically number 15, gave me some nostalgia for my old high school job at a mall pub in El Paso. I’d close it on Friday nights and come home. To unwind I’d read (often the latest Dragon which was in the Silver age leading up to 100 at the time) and listen to Weather Report (usually Night Passage or I Sing the Body Electric).

Did OD&D Forbid Armor for Magic-Users?

Lately I’ve had some interest in actually running straight LBB Dungeons & Dragons and only adding items as they came up in play.

As a result I’ve actually sat down and read my books for the first time since the late 70s (when I ran a weird mix of Holmes, PHB, OD&D (with supplements), and The Best of the Dragon in JHS/HS). Yesterday it jumped out that there is no direct denial of regular armor to the magic user:

Men and Magic pg.6:

Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game, but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up. The whole plethora of enchanted items lies at the magic-users beck and call, save the arms and armor of the fighters (see, however, Elves); Magic-Users may arm themselves with daggers only. Wizards and above may manufacture for their own use (or for sale) such items as potions, scrolls, and just about anything else magical. Costs are commensurate with the value of the item, as is the amount of game time required to enchant it.

First, the only limitation mentioned on normal equipment is the “may arm themselves with daggers only”. There is a limitation on armor as well but in context you could argue the phrase “save the arms and armor of the fighters” refers only and magic items and not regular weapons and armor. Following up on the elves reference (M&M pg. 8) we find:

Thus, they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and still act as Magic-Users.

This is an explicit reference to magic armor. Also note they may use “both weaponry and spells” not “weaponry, armor, and spells.” This seems to reinforce the idea that the limits are on magic-items only.

I wondered if maybe the notional that magic-users wore no armor was a carry-over from Chainmail but it does not appear to be the case (pg.30, emphasis mine):

WIZARDS (including Sorcerers at -1, Warlocks at -2, Magicians at -3, Seers at -4). In normal combat, all this class will fight as two Armored Foot, or two Medium Horse if mounted, and Wizards can handle magical weaponry. However, their chief prowess lies elsewhere.

Certainly, Chainmail expects wizards to have armor or the equivalent (perhaps via spells). Regardless, it does not help the argument that OD&D denied magic-users any armor. It does nat appear that armor or any carried item affect spell casting(M&M pg. 19):

Spells & Levels: The number above each column is the spell level (complexity, a somewhat subjective determination on the part of your authors). The number in each column opposite each applicable character indicates the number of spells of each level that can be used (remembered during any single adventure) by that character. Spells are listed and explained later. A spell used once may not be re-used in the same day.

Nothing about somatic, verbal, or material components. It seems that a magic-user would be able to wear weapons and armor and cast spells. It does, however, seem to indicate that each spell may only be taken once in memory so a wizard would only have one fireball, one lightening bolt, etc.

Now, I fully believe Gary always denied armor to Magic-User player characters and certainly did so explicitly in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. However, unless I run across something else in the LBB I think I will allow magic-users to wear armor and use shields in a LBB centric game.

Swords of the Red Sun Monster Project

Rooting around so for something else I came across an old post by Jeff Rients listing the 65 monsters from Holmes D&D and it got me thinking.

One thing generally recommended for making a campaign your own is to replace the stock monsters, spell, and magic items with your own.

I’ve already got one, Clockwork Skeletons, on the blog for Swords of the Red Sun. Maybe we should go for the mystic 65.

Holmes Monster Swords of the Red Sun replacment
Bandits Cultists
Dragon, Bronze Hur Dragon
Giants Kaiju (prior discussion, Wikipedia)
Spider, Large Clockwork Servants
Spider, Huge Clockwork Skeletons
Spider, Giant Clockwork Men

The May Project: Introduction and Canon

So, my project for May is designing the initial adventure and setting for campaign whose canon is selected accord to Jeff Rients’ Alchemical Proposal. I’m only aiming to create enough material to run initial characters and adventures. I want to leave enough open that the setting will evolve through play. As a result I suspect much of the source material will remain untouched.

I would like to use only things I have in physical form so I can use a banker’s box to hold it. This is an idea picked up from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

1) Start with any ol’ D&D-esque ruleset, though a simpler system without alot of fiddly bits probably works better here.

Here I’ll be using Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Grindhouse Edition. This is a semi-exception to the physical form rule. I have the Deluxe edition and my Grindhouse is either in shipping or will be shipped this week. For now we’ll toss the Deluxe in the box until Grindhouse gets here.

2) Add some supplementary rules material. You’re primarily looking for new Gygaxian building blocks (classes, races, spells, monsters, magic items, etc) to drop into the game. In this recipe you want exactly two different sources for this stuff, one of which is easy to put into your game, like adding Mutant Future as a source of monsters and treasures to your Labyrinth Lord game. For the other one choose something that might be a little harder to fit into your system of choice without some work.

I like to call these the near and far supplements. For LotFP I will define a “near” supplement as anything written to be directly compatible with TSR D&D. The only conversion that will really be needed is armor class and perhaps a few other things like magic resistance.

The physical rule has the biggest effect here as my first choice, Monster Manual 2, isn’t on the bookshelf. I do want a monster book as this is one area where LotFP is pretty empty. I understand Raggi has done this for philosophical reasons but a collection of monsters is useful for me. One reason I’d like the MM2 is the players are much less likely to be familiar. The other is has the section on mapping rarity to custom encounter tables. In fact, that section is why I first bout the MM2 back in the day.

Lacking the MM2 and not wanting to use the Fiend Folio the next choice on my shelf is Monsters of Myth and Legend from the old Mayfair Games Role Aids line. It contains simple background and monsters from six different real world traditions: American Indian, Australian Aborigine, Chinese, Greek, Irish, and Norse mythologies. That looks like a good fit. It’s material can provide a basic outline for six different regions.

Now that we’ve picked a near supplement let’s look for a far supplement. Scanning the shelf I want something far not only in a rules sense but in a genre/setting sense. Instead of another fantasy book I’d like something a little different. I’m not interested into doing something more science fantasy like but maybe something from a horror or modern-mystical setting. Looking at the shelves two choices jump out at me, Mystic China and Through the Glass Darkly. Both books are from Palladium and are for their Ninjas & Superspies and Nightbane games respectively.

Looking through both books they both add several classes and quite a few magic spells. However, I’m going to go with Mystic China for a few reasons. First, while I’m not sure I want to use new character classes early out of the gate if I do at some point Mystic China’s are more than just magic user types. Second, while the idea of living magic is very interesting I’m not sure that’s a direction I’d like to take. Finally, there is some synergy in my two gaming supplements in that both try to provide some Chinese material. I doubt either is going to provide a real Chinese experience (Mystic China does provide a few pages on quick and dirty feel) but I’ve never run a campaign with an East Asia filtered through typical American rpg sensibilities campaign. Doing something new is always a good exercise.

Tomorrow we’ll move onto step three which is selecting a limited amount of fluff to use as inspiration. Then we’ll put it all in a banker’s box and post a photo plus discuss the banker’s box idea.

The World After: Races and Classes

Nothing completely definitive…more leaving myself a note, but I figured making the notes public is part of blogging (except for those super secret notes in my notebooks for PCs to discover).

Anyway, planned initial races and classes (no race/class split): fighters, clerics, magic-users, elves (using the old D&D pick every day fighter/m-u class), dwarves, and some kind of “other skills” class. I’m torn on how to do the last. I’m waiting to see how the specialist works. I remember someone (maybe Rob at Bat in the Attic) had a similar class. Or I may run with a talents and SR class of my own design.

Buried Treasures: Old School RPG Magazines and Fanzines

Because I can’t keep track I thought I’d create a list of RPG fanzines and magazines dedicated to pre-3.x D&D, clones of it, and T&T. Images are the most current issue. The order is not meant to be a comment, but just reflects the order I remembered them.

If I missed your magazine or you’d like the link or thumbnail changed please drop me a line. I’m only interested in those still being actively produced (I’m unsure of the status of Green Devil Face so I didn’t list it).

Random Campaign Idea: The Last God

At the dawn of time the gods who inhabited the Astral Sea warred with the Old Ones from beyond the known universe. Aberrant monsters of the Far Realm they sought to unmake creation. The gods were hard pressed and imbued the mortals with their powers to join in the battle. In the end the Old Ones were driven from the moral world and it’s parallels as well as the Astral Sea. However, many gods fell and a handful of openings to the Far Realms permitted the servants of the Old Ones to corrupt creation.

For a time the gods worked to heal the world and mortals hunted down the fell servants but the Old Ones were not permanently deterred. Again the Old Ones struck and were defeated yet more gods fell. Like the tides breaking upon the shore each war ended with reality preserved but more of the gods, and often their planes within the Astral Sea, destroyed. Each time more of the Old One’s servants remained behind.

Now, a thousand years after the last war, the world awaits its fate. The Last God imbues his servants with the power to destroy the aberrant monsters while runepriests join mystery cults dedicated to fallen gods to learn their powers. Other mortals, knowing that the gods are spent and the defense of the world falls to them, have taken to walking arcane paths and making fell pacts to garner power to defeat the Old Ones and their servants. The Fey wilds have sent forth their own champions and even beings of Elemental Chaos have stepped into the world to prepare for its next defense.

Yet even before that can begin the world must be cleansed of the corruption left by the Old Ones, including the promises of power to persevere against them or even among them. It seems no place is pure and no power lies uncorrupted.

This idea comes from two primary sources and one secondary source. The primary sources are James Raggi’s how to make D&D metal and Palladium Book’s Old Ones. The secondary source is Charnel Gods, a supplement to Sorcerer which has no web presence that I can find.

The principle idea behind the setting is an ongoing war for the universe between the gods and Cthuvian Old Ones. As the gods beat off each attack their numbers diminished faster than their ability to regenerate. Now, the Last God prepares for his final battle by empowering servants, while men try to claim both the powers of the fallen gods as well learn the powers of creation directly.

Meanwhile, these wars have corrupted the world itself. Most power is now seduced by servants of the Old Ones and the world wars among itself as much as it tries to heal and prepare. The characters are new heroes rising to fight the corruption of the world only to risk seduction by it. Those who persevere beyond that seduction can rise to defend creation itself.

I originally conceived this for my restricted classes and races 4e campaign.

Ape as Class

The Marvel comic Planet of the Apes has gotten me on a bit of an ape kick. Which got me thinking, why not use it (modified) as a D&D setting. Use the old sci-fi classic of nuclear war restoring magic to the world. For people who complain of elfly/dwarfy fantasy this could be a new twist.

What’s really great is how the original movie even helps us map the ape types to character classes. Based on the films, especially the first two, it is obvious that gorillas would be fighters. The scientist types are all chimpanzees so they would be our magic users. Finally, Dr. Zaius and the Lawgiver are cleric types which gives us the orangutans.

Grab the cave city inspired architecture (especially if you can find the old 70s comics) and use James M’s Stranger for Taylor like visitor humans and you’ve got all you need for a great classic D&D version of the classic franchise.

Plus, no elves.

Mentzer Dungeon: Introduction

This week I pulled the trigger on BCS Redbox and BCS Rebox Meetup. Our first meeting will be Sunday the 17th of April.

I don’t have anyone signed up but me. As such, I need to be ready to run something. While I have a ton of modules and such I thought, “since we’re playing Mentzer why not build a dungeon by the book.”

So, over the next week I’m going to try and pretend I’ve never done this before and design a dungeon step by step with random stocking of most rooms and all the other hallmarks of Mentzer’s procedure. For those wonder, the outline isn’t much different from Moldavy’s outline but the text is somewhat different.

For those who don’t have Mentzer handy the steps are:

  1. Choose a Scenario
  2. Decide on a Setting
  3. Select Special Monsters
  4. Draw the Map
  5. Stock the Dungeon
  6. Fill in the Final Details

My goal in this is two fold. First, I’d like to get back to basics and see if I can rediscover things I’ve forgotten, both in process and in response. Second, I’m hoping these posts will inspire those, especially those who have never designed a dungeon, to take the leap.

Other articles in this series: