May Project: Geese Part 1

The third story in Sword and Sorceress VIII is Geese by Laurell K. Hamilton. Yes, it’s by that Laurell K. Hamilton. You would think with my love of Harry Dresden, Rachel Carson, and Mercy Thompson that Anita Blake and especially Merry Gentry would be regular reading for me but they aren’t. This is the first Hamilton I’ve read and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.

This is the first of two posts bringing elements from the story to the May Project Setting setting.

Perhaps I had been a goose for too long. Perhaps it was time to become human again, but the desire was hazy. I was no longer sure why I wanted to be human. I could not quite remember the reason I had hidden myself among the geese.

Quote from Geese, copyright Laurell K. Hamilton.

The protagonist of the story begins it changed into the form of a goose. She is at the edge of losing her human identity and fully becoming a goose when she is shocked out of the form by an attack on children.  While contemplating as a goose at the beginning she mentions spending summers in the form giving it an apparently unlimited at will duration.  Clearly, though, the longer one stays in the form the more likely one is to never return from it, a common idea in folklore and fantasy stories.

Gelace’s Forms of Hiding
Magic-User Level 4
Duration: Unlimited (but see below)
Range: Self

The caster to shifts into the form of a normal animal smaller than herself.  The assumed form cannot have more hit dice than half the caster’s level (round up) nor may it have more than half mass than the caster.  The caster gains the physical capabilities and statistics of the new form but initially retains her mental abilities.  Special abilities the caster has, such as spell casting, are not available while in the changed form.  The caster does retain memorized spells while in the animal form despite their inability to cast spells (although, see below).  Any geas or quest spell on the caster becomes inactive while in the animal form but will immediately return in affect upon returning to human form.

The spell is unlimited duration in the sense that the caster may remain in the form as long as they desire.  However, prolonged form changes risk the caster’s mental abilities shifting from their original form to match that of the animal form.  To shift back to human form the caster must make a successful save versus spell.  A failure means the caster must wait at least a month before making another attempt to shift back.  They may gain a bonus to this saving throw by channeling a memorized spell into it.  They bonus is the spell level divided by 3, rounding to nearest (so at least a 2nd level spell must be sacrificed to gain any bonus).

While in animal Every month the caster spends in animal form she must make a save versus spell.  Every time the caster fails this roll they gain a cumulative -1 to their restoration saving throw.

History: The Ballad of Gelace and Lonan tells that Gelace  said to have spontaneously created this variation on the more common Polymorph Self trying to escape the death of her entire family at the hand of the Baron Madawoc.  After several years in hiding (a period unduplicated since) she returned and killed the Baron, gaining both her family’s land and Madawoc’s traditional lands for herself.

As per the licensing page the material in this box is available under Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons. While I prefer the Creative Commons because the text is based on OGL material I do not believe it is proper to offer this under the CC.

The May Project Continues

Well, despite my best intentions I only got about one good week of the May Project due to a combination of NRE and work.

While NRE is still high (it actually started in April) I’m a bit back together and I’m ahead on the time management parts of it.

So, the May Project will also be the June project but with a second, very important purpose: On June 19th the May project becomes a fortnightly campaign on Sunday evenings. I have two players and if you read this and are in the Greater Atlanta Metro area and willing to come into Midtown every other Sunday we can talk.

May Project: Wings of Fire Part 3

There is one list thing to take from this first tale in Swords and Sorceress VIII. Actually, it’s a pair of items.

“As you see,” said a new voice, female, with an undertone of petulance, “I plan my prisons well.”

“For the mages,” their captor said, gesturing grandly, “A cage which nullifies magic, with a lock that can only be opened with an ordinary key.” She held up the key hanging at her belt.”

“For the warrior, a prison that only magic can unlock.

Quote from Wings of Fire, copyright Mercedes Lackey

Cages of Joneky
Joneky, the first governor of Frjanci when the Chjinnee founded the city, trafficed in barbarian warriors and strange creatures with unique powers captured to serve as entertainment at the Emperor’s Court. Not one to be daunted by difficulties (or shy away from great amounts of coins) he extended his alchemical researches into locks of great ingenuity. His crowning achievement were the Cages of Joneky. The mystical crafts that fuel them require them to be made as a matched pair and they are most effective when joined together.

The Warrior’s Cage is locked magically. Once the door is shut to re-open it requires the casting of a magical spell. If the caster is keyed to it (see below) any spell, even a read magic, is sufficient to open it. If the caster is not keyed to it he must making a roll of 20+ on a d20 with the level of spell cast as a positive modifier and the level of diverted magic from it’s mate (see below) as a negative one. Spells that are specifically intended to open locks, such as knock give a modifier of twice their level. A caster can accumulate levels by casting spell after spell, but for every round a spell isn’t cast the accumulated modifier is halved. Multiple casters cannot combine the utility of their spells.

The Mage’s Cage is locked with a simple, but incredibly complex, mechanical lock. Attempts at picking the lock are at a penalty of +1 (d6 skills) or +16% (percentile skills) which doubles with successive retries after each failure. The cage’s true power, however, is the fact that it nullifies magic. Items within will not function. Spell casters lose all memorized spells. If the cage is within line of sight of its mate then the power of those spells are diverted to the Warrior Cage with the sum of their levels becoming the negative modifier. This stored power will drain away at the rate of one penalty point per day.

Attunement is accomplished by a spell caster intentionally placing himself inside the Mage’s Cage within one turn of locking the Warrior’s Cage. The caster must then, within 24 hours, cast spells to unlock the The Warrior’s Cage. If 24 hours pass before he successfully opens The Warrior’s Cage he must restart the process. If he opens it within 24 hours he will be attuned to The Warrior’s Cage and may easily open it. Only the mated Mage’s Cage can attune a caster to a given Warrior’s Cage.

Bleed Off is required for a Mage’s Cage to remain stable. Every time it tries to deactivate magic without it’s mate in line of sight it may explode. Role percentile dice and if the result is less than the total of levels being absorbed the cages explodes doing d6 damage per spell level absorbed to those outside the cage and within 20′ feet. Individuals within the cage are not harmed but still lose their memorized spells. Magic items do not add to and cannot by themselves cause this explosion nor can inherent spell like powers (although all of those are dampened by the cage.

As per the licensing page the material in this box is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License or the Open Gaming License. Choose the license which best suits your purposes but I prefer the Creative Commons.

May Project: Wings of Fire Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post of campaign materials inspired by the story Wings of Fire from

“She was born of magically talented parents, and given all she desired,” the Hawkbrother continued. “But she came to desire more and more, and her own small talent could not compass her ambition, until she discovered her one true gift-that she could steal spells from any, and use that power to weave those spells at no cost to herself. Thus she enriched herself at the expense of others, and the more power she had, the more she sought.”

Quote from Wings of Fire, copyright Mercedes Lackey

So, a mage that only learns spells by stealing them. While the idea of power stealing is common the specific idea of learning spells by stealing is kind of rare. I like it.

Spell Stealer
The spell stealer is a form of magical parasite. Born with the ability to channel magics they lack either the mental ability or determination to actually learn magical formulas. Instead, they steal spell knowledge directly for the minds of other magic users and clerics.

Except as noted below under spell casting, spell learning, and other abilities treat a spell stealer as a cleric for purposes of attacks, weapons and armor, spells per day, and saves. Treat them as a magic-user if, for some reason, you need to know XP to advance a level. Because of their lack of training and knowledge no magical research, item creation, or similar abilities are know by spell stealers.

Spell Casting: Because they are innate magic users and not learned or devoted ones spell stealers don’t memorize spells or maintain spell books. All their spells are kept in their head and selected as needed to cast. While this gives them some flexibility relative to magic-users and clerics they are still limited to a certain number of castings per day, reflecting their ability to control the energies coursing through them.

Spell Learning: Due to their inability to learn spells by devoted prayer or academic study spell stealers do just that, they steal spells directly from the mind of other magic users. Because they must hold all their spells in their head they are limited in the number they can know and lack absolute control over what they learn. The total number of spells of a given level a spell stealer can know is half the number that level they can cast per day divided by two.

Because of the method for “learning” a spell it is quite possible that a spell stealer may know a lower level spell than the slot might indicate, such as knowing spider climb as a third level spell instead of a first level one. Note, such higher level learning has no effect on the spells power, just how much power they must use to cast it. Finally, because they use the cleric spells per day table they cannot learn eight and ninth level magic user spells at all.

To learn a spell a spell stealer must cease and hold the head of a spell caster who has memorized a spell and lock their eyes. In combat this requires a to hit at -8 and in or out of combat the victim may save against spell to avoid the eye lock affecting the transfer. The transfer takes one round per level of spell being learned and if broke before then the stealer must save versus spell or take spell level d6 of damage. At the end of that time the stealer may select one spell the opponent knows to attempt to steal. Roll d20 + spell stealer’s level – spell level. On a roll of 15+ the stealer steals that spell. On a roll 6-14 a random spell memorized by the target is selected from all spells that are the level of the highest open slot of the stealer or lower. In this case regardless of level of the spell it will fill that highest open slot. On a roll of 4- no spell is stolen. Any stolen spell is immediately forgotten. Magic-user and clerical spells may be stolen.

If a spell is stolen the subject of the attack makes a saving throw against magic with a bonus of the spell stealer’s level if a specific spell is chosen. If the roll is failed the target suffers a level drain if level 2 or higher but not if level 1. This drain represents the mental damage suffered by having a spells ripped out of your head. The bonus on a specific spell being stolen represents the lessor damage by a controlled removal by an experienced stealer.

As per the licensing page the material in this box is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License or the Open Gaming License. Choose the license which best suits your purposes but I prefer the Creative Commons.

May Project: Wings of Fire Part 1

The second story in Sword and Sorceress VIII is Wings of Fire by Mercedes Lackey. At the risk of trashing what little old school cred I have I have to admit to enjoying a lot of Misty’s writing. My favorites were her Diana Tregarde novels of which there were only three due to poor sales although a novella appeared in a 2010 collection. There were two short stories about Diana originally written to be included in Stalking the Night Fantastic.

Wings of Fire is a Tarma and Kethry. While the main characters and broader setting elements aren’t easily transferable to the Grjeee setting (although some could fit the Maerr Idnn) I have found a few things I’d like to important at this early stage. The first is a spell.

The bird shrieked in alarm and shot skyward. Tamara cursed; Kethry was too busy trying to breathe.
It’s the paralysis spell, she thought even as she struggled to get more air into her lungs. But she couldn’t breathe in without first breathing out, and every time she did that the hand closed tighter on her chest. That’s-supposed-to-be-
A darkness that had nothing to do with the hour dimmed the moonlight, and her lungs screamed for air.
Blackness swooped in like a stooping hawk, and covered her.

Quote from Wings of Fire, copyright Mercedes Lackey.

Okay, you say lost spell and I hear campaign material. What we know is it is called the paralysis spell and it suffocates the victim to unconsciousness but not death. Because it is used to paralyzed both main characters to capture them it seems to follow the Hold Person and Hold Monster spells but it also causes damage but not fatally. It also seems to be general in effect.

Magic-User Level 6
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: 120’
This spell will render any living creature paralyzed. Targets of the spell are aware, but cannot breathe normally or take any actions, including speech. A successful save vs. magic will negate the effect. The spell may be cast at a single monster, which makes its save at -2, or at a group, in which case 1d4 of the creatures in the group may be affected.

The inability to breath will deal 1d6 damage per round but will not take the victim to negative hit points. If the victim reaches 0 hit points due to the spell’s damage he will fall unconscious.

A winged creature which is paralyzed cannot flap its wings and falls (if in flight at the time). A paralyzed swimmer can’t swim and may drown.

If a magic item or spell operates to partially negate the effects of paralysis, failure on the saving throw will have the effect of a Slow spell rather than completely immobilizing the target and will only cause 1d3 per round damage from breathing difficulty.

As per the licensing page the material in this box is available under Open Gaming License or Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. I prefer the Creative Commons license.

May Project: Where Am I From

One of the first things you can tell a player is where his character originated. So we’ll start our setting by picking some broad cultures/locations.

Looking at our resources we get the following:

  • Core Rules: No real setting info beyond some basic assumptions.
  • Monsters of Myth and Legend: Presents monsters and gods from six cultures: American Indians, Aborigine, Chinese, Greek, Irish, Norse.
  • Mystic China: I think this is obvious.
  • Sword & Sorceress VIII: A variety from unnamed cities to Mercedes Lackey’s Velgarth
  • City In The Glacier: While the entire series detailed several nations of the setting to varying degrees, this volume covers mostly a lost realm and some primitive tribes the two leads adventure through while reaching the eponymous city.
  • Gloomcookie: Modern San Francisco through a horror movie/goth scene lens.

Looking at that list I’d say we’re leaning to six main cultures derived from the MoMaL list with an emphasis that the core culture is the one derived from Chinese culture. We should have a lost culture now buried in ice which we’ll make the ancestors of the Norse and Irish derived cultures. I also want one very creepy but somehow important city at the core of the initial setting area.

Some quick culture names and how they map (names created with Mythmere’s Gygax Your Name generator):

Maerr Idnn => American Indians (Amerind was the source word)
Yaborine => Aborigine
Chjinna => China (not a lot of change)
Grjeee => Greece (hey, that ‘j’ tells me they’re related…more about that below)
Rielant => Ireland (the ‘t’ is from change one letter)
Csantinavaire => Norse (Scandinavia was the source word…again, I got change one letter and again moved ‘d’ to ‘t’ to provide some commonality with the Rielant as they have the same source culture)

We’ve already decided the Rielant and Csantinavaire are descended from the City In The Glacier and they have the common ‘ant’ structure in the name (which is cool when you look at the monster on the novel’s cover) so the city’s name should have that as well.

I also noticed we got that third ‘j’ in both Chjinna and Grjee. We’d decided our core culture is Chjinna so let’s put Grjee as a colony of that culture on the same continent as the Rieland and Csantinavaire. Our City in the Glacier is now a Seven Cities of Gold type draw for Chjinnarie adventurers to the new world. Given we’re probably setting our initial campaign area in this colony our creepy city, Frjanci, will be the main port and capital of the colony.

Finally, where would we be without a random character origin table broken down by class (if we add new classes they’ll need their own table):

Roll Fighter
Human NPC
Cleric Magic User Dwarf Elf Halfling
1 Maerr Idnn Maerr Idnn Maerr Idnn Maerr Idnn Maerr Idnn Maerr Idnn
2 Yaborine Yaborine Yaborine Yaborine Yaborine Maerr Idnn
3 Chjinna Chjinna Chjinna Chjinna Chjinna Maerr Idnn
4 Chjinna Chjinna Chjinna Grjeee Grjeee Yaborine
5 Grjeee Chjinna Chjinna Grjeee Grjeee Yaborine
6 Grjeee Grjeee Grjeee Rielant Rielant Yaborine
7 Grjeee Grjeee Grjeee Csantinavaire Rielant Chjinna
8 Grjeee Grjeee Grjeee Csantinavaire Rielant Chjinna
9 Rielant Rielant Rielant Csantinavaire Rielant Grjeee
10 Rielant Csantinavaire Rielant Csantinavaire Rielant Grjeee
11 Csantinavaire Csantinavaire Rielant Csantinavaire Rielant Rielant
12 Csantinavaire Csantinavaire Csantinavaire Csantinavaire Csantinavaire Csantinavaire

If you want to select a human origin before the class just use the NPC chart.

The May Project: Canon Part 2

Yesterday we introduced my May Project for blogging and added the gaming sources I’m use for it. Today, we move on to inspirational fluff.

3) Now you need some fluff to hang all this stuff on. Pick exactly three sources of campaign inspiration. Two of these sources should be recognizable as fantasy material, like selecting your favorite Conan paperback and maybe Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Note that you are picking individual works, not entire bodies of work.

I’ve divided part three into two parts. The first is the easy part. I need to pick two recognizable pieces of fantasy literature (I guess movies, comics, ect. also count). I have shelves and shelves of material that qualify for this part. Selecting just two is the trick. Given the point of blogging is to highlight things you think are important or useful I’ll use that as a filter.

If there is one area the OSR dances around but I’ve yet to see someone directly address is the importance of short fiction. A large amount of what is considered primary source material for D&D, via Appendix N and other sources, is short fiction. The Dying Earth is an interlinked collection of short stories, for example. The Hour of the Dragon was Howard’s only novel about Conan and it comes in at 72,659 words making it short relative to the fantasy novels of today. Today the advice for a new writer is to aim for 100,000-120,000 words. With the complaints that most contemporary fantasy novels are badly redone Tolkien or RPG session reports (complaints I don’t agree with, btw…urban fantasy rules the roast with the lesser quest series in second) perhaps we should look to short fiction.

With that in mind I’m select my most recently purchased anthology, Sword and Sorceress VIII, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, the creator of Darkover. Admittedly this anthology is, itself, two decades old this year but the series remains popular. It has survived Bradley’s death twelve years ago with Diana Paxon and later Elisabeth Waters editing. Sword And Sorceress XXV was released last year and the next is due in November.

For my second work I’m also going back in time but to the period of Moldvay Basic. Robert Vardeman has written a lot of fantasy and science fiction novels. Although they are generally arranged in a variety of series the are all short and aren’t what I’d call world saving quests, although some have that element. I haven’t done a word count but looking at my book shelf they are similar in length to The Dying Earth. All are adventure story novels and are fairly quick reads. Vardeman is a work day writer in a prolific and simple style that I consider a direct descendant of the pulp tradition. Much to my surprise I have never seen him cited in any RPG literature although I remember a review of Cenotaph Road in Dragon.

I am going with City In The Glacier, the second book of his War of the Powers series. I haven’t read it in a couple of years, but it provides a strong inspiration for a dungeon setting as well as an interesting battle scenario between two primitive tribes that could be an interesting set-piece to add to a hex map. It also avoids one element of the series, a floating city, I’d prefer to avoid adding to the setting. Finally, one of the main characters is a dog sled driver in a grasslands region. The dog sleds are on rollers and I’ve always thought replacing horses and wagons with these sleds would be a fund twist for a fantasy world.

Your third fluff is meant to be the wild card. Pick something way out in la-la land for this one. Don’t even look at fantasy novels. That’d be too pedestrian. You want something like an issue of the Micronauts comic or the movie Krull or the Principia Discordia. Or a book like Barlow’s Guide to Extraterrestrials.

So now a wild card. Looking over at the DVD shelf Brotherhood of the Wolf is looking longingly at me, but gunpowder and horses don’t look like they’d mix well with some of the already selected fluff. While balancing the tensions is part of this exercise I’m not sure that’s one I want to balance.

Instead, let’s try comics. Science fiction or superheroes would be too much of an odd direction. However, how about some goths with a traveling show and monsters disguised as people? That could work very well and look, I have that. Gloom Cookie is exactly that and I have the first bound volume on the shelves. I think the crew could be an excellent core group in a city plus all the main characters except Lex could become rumors of evil tidings for the characters to hear. Plus, the Carnival Macabre will not only add a lot of flavor but can be a reoccurring source of information and oddity for the players to encounter.

So there we have it, three sources of fluff to go with my core rules and two supplements. Over May we’ll set what kind of sandbox I can build and have ready to go with just those items.

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.