Saturday, March 23, 2013


In honor of the fact that I just finished my taxes for the year, and I'm annoyed as I lost my last child deduction because he has a job, not because he's financially independent.  Here's a table of taxes and fees based on those exacted in classical Rome.
Sesterius.  The standard Roman accounting SP at 10 SP to 1 GP
1. The tithes paid to the state by those who occupied the ager publicus. This amounted to 1/10th of the produce or one fifth of the wine and olives

2. The sums paid by those who kept their cattle on the public pastures. The amount was not recorded, but was apparently lucaive, so charge the higher rate - one fifth of the increase in any herd pastured on public land.

3. The harbour duties raised upon imported and exported commodities. One twentieth the value of the goods, including slaves.

4. The revenue derived from the salt-works. One denarius (a large silver piece worth four regular silver pieces (sesterius)) per 60 pecks (524 liters)

5. The revenues derived from the mines (metalla). This branch of the public revenue cannot have been very productive until the Romans had become the masters of foreign countries. Until that time the mines of Italy appear to have been worked, but this was forbidden by the senate after the conquest of foreign lands (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.4,º XXXVII.13). The mines of conquered countries were treated like the salinae, that is, they were partly left to individuals, companies, or towns on condition of a certain rent being paid (Plin. H. N. XXXIV.1; Cic. Philip. II.19), or they were worked for the direct account of the state, or were farmed by the publicani. In the last case, however, it appears always to have been fixed by the lex censoria how many labourers or slaves the publicani should be allowed to employ in a particular mine, as otherwise they would have been able to derive the most enormous profits (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.4). Among the most productive mines belonging to the republic we may mention the rich gold-mines near Aquileia (Polyb. XXXIV.10), the gold-mines of Ictimuli near Vercelli, in which 25,000 men were constantly employed (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.4;º Strab. V. p151), and lastly the silver-mines in Spain in the neighbourhood of Carthago Nova, which yielded every day 25,000 drachmas to the Roman aerarium (Polyb. XXXIV.9; cf. Liv. XXXIV.21). Macedonia, Thrace, Illyricum, Africa, Sardinia, and other places also contained very productive mines, from which Rome derived considerable income.

6. The hundredth part of the value of all things which were sold (centesima rerum venalium). This tax was not instituted at Rome until the time of the civil wars; the persons who collected it were called coactores
For slaves it was charged at two percent.

7. The vicesima hereditatium et manumissionum.  Freeing a slave costs the owner one twentieth of the slaves value as a tax.  A nice one to charge your paladins for doing good deeds.

9. A tax upon bachelors.  Not contributing to the future of the state? Five percent every census, for unmarried men, excluding widowers, over the age of twenty five.

10. A door-tax and a pillar tax. These are taxes on palaces or fancy townhouses, two percent for every door, and one percent for each external pillar. [Ed.  Value is calculated based on the total cost of the building.]

11. The octavae. In the time of Caesar all liberti living in Italy and possessing property of 200 sestertia, and above it, had to pay a tax consisting of the eighth part of their property.  The liberti were freed men (former slaves) , but this works as a tax on any novaeu riche, such as successful adventurers.

See Vectigalia for the source of the information.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Soloplay Game Report - Teuta Act II, Scene 1

As they walked down the road towards Oricum, Lucius told them of the bandit lords who had aided the Macedonians in their fight against the Romans twenty years before.  He described the battle at the gorge of the Aoos that had crushed the Macedonian army and how all of their allies had been cut down or captured and sold as slaves.
   "According to the scrolls that old Lysixenos has, they joined the Macedonians after a two day march.  In that sort of terrain it means that they were within twenty miles of the gorge."
  "So you're proposing we tramp down the Ceraunian road to Chaonia?", asked Sumakos.  "If the the Toad is after Teuta, it will be easy for him to send the Phrygian down the road on a horse and overtake us."
  "Possible", admitted Lusicus, "but unless you think we could take ship at Oricum and sail down the coast, which I can't afford, how else can we get there?"
  "I grew up in the Byllian Hills, we just cut through the fields to the East Road to Dimale and then pick up the course of the Apsus, we can follow it through the mountains and come out in Chaonia east of the gorge."1
  With that they swung east and passed through Dimale as the afternoon faded they decided to press on into the Byllion Hills until the light faded.2  The next day they reached the mountains at the head of the valley, Lucius wanted to push on, but Sumakos and Teuta were adamant they they should camp then and start the ardouous trek in the morning.3,4  The next day they began their trip through the mountains, Sumakos estimated that they should reach the valley of eastern Chaonia in no more than a week. 
Red indicates the group's path.  Green is the trail they meant to take.
The following morning the path forked, Sumakos confidently led them up the left hand path into the shadow of the peaks.  Three days Sumakos announced that they had reached the Candovian trail and Clausura was only a few miles to the right.  As the miles walked by and there was no sign of the valley of eastern Chaoinia, much less Clausura, they became less and less certain that they knew where they were.  Sumakos remained confident that they were on the Candovian trail, but did not try to pretend that he knew wher they might be on that trail.  One midnight Lucius arwoke the others at the sound of horses approaching.  Two riders on shaggy beasts rode into the light of the campfire, armed with scimtars.  They gave a loud whistle and the party realized that there were over a dozen of them.  The leader, wearing padded armor, cantered forward and smiled sardonically, "You shouldn't camp right on the trail, you never know who you will meet."
"We're simply travelers, on our way to Clausura.  We have nothing of value."
"Clausura?  You're on the right trail, but you're a week away."
  "A week, that's lnger than our provisions will last, can we purchase some from you?"
"See, you do have something of value, let's see what you have besides your gold.  Unfortunately, we won't be selling."
Later, as the bandit chieftain rode away in Maedus' scale armor, Teuta remarked "I see his point on who you meet on the road."

  Three days later, Maedus woke them up before dawn, saying there's something out there.  They're mvoing pretty stealthily."  Suddinely, the party was rushed by three goblins, who closed into attack.  Maedus, Teuta and Lucius all missed their attacks.  Sumakos cast Entangle and trapped all the goblins.  After dispatching the evil humanoids, they counted up what they had gained, three morning stars and shields and a handful of silver.  "At least we'll have money to buy food, if we find anyone who has any extra."
Two days later, they camped overlooking the valley and ate the last of their provisions.  The next day the marched hungry into the little hamlet of Clausura.  As the sun approached the zenith, they came up the cluster of buildings, the farmer's wife bustled up from where she was working in the garden.
"You lot look footsore and tired."
"Yes, m'am, hungry too.  Our provisions gave out last night.  Could we purchase some food from you?"
"We can talk about that later, I have some beans in a pot.  You can join us, then we'll talk about what you need to go on."
The farmer, Eucheron and his workers soon came in for the meal.  In the discussion over the food, he mentioned that he had seen Bardyllis and his gang riding north the previous week, so he wasn't surprised that they had run afoul of them.  He wasn't aware of any ruins near the farm, but had rarely ventured into the mountains east of the valley.  He did offer to sell Maedus a set of old studded leather, which he claimed he had recovered from a casualty of the battle years before.  In response to a question from Teuta, he replied that there were no healers in the valley, the closest temple being to the west south of the gorge.5
Game notes below the jump.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Movie Review - Oz Great and Powerful

Now I go to movies when my better half tells me I'm going to the movies.  Which means that other than LoTR, where I'm already familiar with the story, I usually don't see anything related to gaming.

Oz is simultaneously a prequel, an independent story and a homage to the original Judy Garland Wizard of Oz film.  Starting with the 'cardstock' titles, which I suspect are actually CGI, the movie tries to emulate the look and feel of the films of the 1930's.  The homage  aspect starts at the beginning where the Kansas scenes are filmed in black and white, as in the original.  Oz is the traveling magician, with an assistant name 'Frank', in the 'Baum Brothers Circus'; a nice shout out to the author.  And there is a brief scene where an old flame stops by to announce that 'John Gale' has asked her to marry him, nicely foreshadowing the heroine of it's predecessor.  I'll also say that the city Oz as imagined in this film, seems to give a tip of the hat to Fritz Lang's Metropolis; which I believe carried over to the Disney castle in the credits.

I won't spoil it with too many details, the story revolves around this sideshow magician becoming the Wizard of Oz.  The story itself may be new, I  know that Baum wrote several books set in Oz, but haven't read them.  The scenery resembles that of the original, but with all the powers of CGI behind it.  The witch is wicked, the Munchkins are munchkiny and [spoiler] the flying monkeys are (mostly) baboons.  They do a nice job of not letting the audience see the monsters the wicked witch has unleashed on the poor residents of Oz, which heightens the dramatic tension.  There was one character development that I did not foresee, but which I heartily appreciated. 

Now for the gaming aspect.  After landing in the Oz, he has an encounter with 'river faeries'; these may help roll back the  Tolkien interpretation of the fae as being wonderful enlightened beings.  These are how the fae should be played, they have the sense of humor of an eight year old and they have teeth.

Baum's works are viewed (probably correctly) as geared towards juveniles, so they neglected as a source of inspiration in RPGs.  This should be revisited by DMs, the flower orchestra is a masterful piece background that tells the characters "you're not in Kansas anymore".  I suspect similar pieces exist in his works.

Finally, if you are in a game that has the Mountebank class, James Franco gives a tutorial in how to play the class.

I give Oz Great and Powerful five skulls.  Mind you, Mila Kunis would get a high skull count for looks alone, but her performance demonstrated a range that I did not suspect that she had.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review - The End of the Story

Clark Ashton Smith's The End of the Story is a a chronological compilation of his work, starting from the beginning.  There are three additional volumes in the series, which I plan on covering in due course.  It's impossible to sum up a group of stories only connected by author and date of publication.  The genre jumps from story to story, Averoigne to Hyperborea to Cthulhu to hard sci-fi and the writing quality varies, as one would expect from a beginning writer, harried by multiple editors.

CAS is considered one of the authors of the canon, despite not being explicitly named in Gygax's Appendix N, as he wrote for many of the same publications as, and was a close friend of Lovecraft.

I've linked items I've been inspired to write up from his work below.  I expect more will be added later.  Obviously, I find quite a few ideas in these stories, yet they're not an easy read.  He's one of the few authors who makes me reach for a dictionary - the last one was John Marshall in his The Life of George Washington - because of his extensive and anachronistic vocabulary.

I was tempted to recommend you find a more cohesive work, say his Averoigne stories, but then I realized how much of the inspiration is coming from the other genres he worked in.

[Ed. Forgot to put in the links!]

Goddess of the Ebon Moon 
Portal of Eibon

Black Rider
Cactus Viper

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beastiary - Trap Limpet

Resembling a gray-ish brown fried egg, the Trap Limpet was developed by a wizard as a variant of a homunculus, to set off and reload traps.

The Trap Limpet is capable of being taught to recognize a simple design, such as a uniform and will allow those displaying it to proceed unmolested.

Interlopers, however, will cause the Limpet to set off a trap, whether it's pulling a pin that drops rocks on their heads or loosing an arrow trap, the Limpet uses telekinesis to mechanically trigger the trap it has been assigned to.  Afterwards the Limpet uses it's telekinesis to reset the trap, whether pulling up the trap door over the pit or reloading the arrow, as long as it has the material to work with.

The Trap Limpet is created using the blood of a willing minion -(In D&D terms a henchman), and only one Trap Limpet can be created for each minion.  The Limpet has only one hit point, can not move once placed and dies if forcibly removed from it's anchor.  The minion does not suffer any damage if the Limpet is killed, but does suffer a temporary one point loss of constitution when it is created.

The Limpet's telekinetic ability is essentially unrestricted, but quite slow so that it is incable of damaging anything directly.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Gygax on Alignment

XKCD Tribute to E.G.G.
There's been some posting on alignment going on recently, Eric over at the Tavern, and Talysman at 9 and 30 Kingdoms, have been musing on the subject.  Which made a reader dig up an old post of mine that I had forgotten writing. 
Because of that this interesting advice about Chaotic characters caught my eye while researching a future post in Supplement I - Greyhawk from 1976.

"While there is no rule to  apply to groups of chaotic players operating in concert, referees are encouraged to formulate some rules against continuing co-operation as fits their particular situation, but consideration for concerted actions against chaotic players by lawful ones should be given."

Wow, the good guys should gang up and smack down their erstwhile party member(s) before they can backstab them.  This is one page before the paladin is introduced, with the prohibition against associating with Chaotic characters.  "They will associate only with lawful characters."  Emphasis in the original.
Essential he declared open season on any chaotic character, with no side effects even  for paladins.

Alignment in The Big Lebowski
A couple of years later he had switched to the Nine Alignment system. Which for all of the discussions it has spawned over the years, takes up two pages in the DMG and three in the PH (counting the chart as a whole page).  Yet, I've never seen discussion on why the switch was made.

One of the items in the DMG which struck me was the half column on Graphing AlignmentIt is of importance to keep track of player character behavior with respect to their alignment.... It is of utmost importance to keep rigid control of alignment behavior with respect to such characters who serve deities who will accept only certain alignments,...failure to demand strict adherence to alignment behavior is to allow a game abuse.

Wow? E.G.G. is using some pretty emphatic language here and mandating some secret meta-gaming bookkeeping on the part of the DM.  Now there's lots of bookkeeping that the DM and players are mandated to do, in terms of time and light and to some extent encumbrance.  These are all things that affect the characters.  As far as my memory serves, this is the only mechanic that he ever mandates that is aimed at controlling the players.

And it wasn't there in 0e.  It makes me speculate that the Nine Alignments, like the Grappling were someone else' idea that he was talked into.  The game was developed to allow the players to take the part of heroes; villains as said above, were to be ganged up on and defeated, even if they were party members.  However with the introduction of the Assassin as a class, obviously they couldn't be heroes - and in terms of the broader society, Clint Eastwood's anti-hero movies were dominating the decade, at least until the release of Star Wars.  Could that have influenced the change in systems? 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Treasury - Pearl of New Reality

Sometimes a wish is granted or action is taken that changes the course of history ... for awhile.  For the truth is that not all desires can with stand the pressures of Time, Space, Fate and most especially the sheer mass of History, grinding into the future.

When a wish can not stay fulfilled, History, the sages agree, will form an event horizon around the wish and slowly push in until the wish has collapsed into an opalescent  sphere, resembling an extremely large pearl.  Thus encapsulating the altered reality.

After that the sages split into various schools regarding the properties and fate of the orbs.

The Amber school claims if you take one to the space between Shadows it will expand into a whole new reality.

The Alexandrian school claims that the altered reality, complete to the edge of the universe is still within the pearl. And that if you could but pierce the event horizon you could find yourself as you would have been.

The Ankh school agrees with the Amber school, but claims that you have to wait until the end of this reality, when all of the pearls will be able to expand and grow into new realities.

The Rel Astran school says that these are not complete new realities, but seeds of new planes.  The seeds can be "planted" in the Astral plane and nurtured through complex ritual magic to grow into a new plane of existence.

The Chendl school is an offshoot of the Rel Astran and says that the seed must be taken to the Ethereal plane rather than the Astral.

The Waterdeep or Nesting school claims that our reality is contained within a Pearl and that Pearl is itself contained within a series of Pearls all the way back to the Primal Pearl.

The Greyhawk school says that it's a load of ballocks that the Pearls can contain a new reality or plane.  They like to trot out what they say are Xagyg's research notes recovered by a band of intrepid adventurers, which show that he planned to use Pearls to contain the essences of the demi-gods he captured.

The sage Lysixenos, in his scroll On Infinity, relates the apocryphal story that St Cuthbert once offered such a Pearl to Asmodeus, offering to let him escape to found his own reality and never trouble humankind again.  Asmodeus refused with a wry smile, saying "Not again".

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Module Review - BF1 : Morgansfort

  Morgansfort is an introductory module designed for the Basic Fantasy RPG.  I picked up as a freebie from DriveThru RPG.

It's brief introduction gives an overview of "The Western Lands" campaign setting, including major states and a page and a half devoted to the religions of the campaign.  The information on the major states is less than that given in the original World of Greyhawk Gazetteer and only suffices to provide a brief background for the players, including where demi-human PCs may have come from.

The next eleven pages comprise a map and key to the eponymous fortification.  The key includes a more detailed background placing it in the campaign setting and makes it very clear that the setting is a generic medieval society with knights and barons.  The NPC stat lines are as sparse as you would expect from a 1e module, although more background than usual is provided  about the individuals and their unique treasures - should the players embark down the traditional murder hobo route.

After that come "The Old Fortress" the first of three separate dungeons included in the module.  It's a well executed set of lairs inside of an abandoned stronghold.  I like that they provide check boxes for all the monsters HPs, including the random encounters - although I just use scratch paper myself.  For the placed encounters, the writers have included options and tactics for the monsters where appropriate.  The description text for the players is boxed to stand out and brief - readable without needing to paraphrase.The room for the big finale has a standard version and two alternates, changing the monster and treasure.  A very nice touch to allow the DM to run the module more than once or to chose which ever one will mess with his party's minds the most.

The second dungeon "The Nameless Dungeon" has over eighty rooms to explore, more than  three times the size of the first one.  The quality of the work is maintained and they add a unique tapestry and a puzzle that the players need to solve with the help of a handout.  Thoughtfully, they suggest downloading a copy of the PDF, rather than ripping out the page.  You could just scan the page and print it.

The final dungeon is "The Cave of the Unknown" for which the authors provide two pages of background material, which after reading the descriptions, seemed pretty unnecessary; although I'm guilty of publishing the train of thought I used to get to a specific scenario.

This dungeon is even smaller than "The Old Fortress", coming in at just 24 rooms, but does contain an undead spellcaster and a few nasty surprises for an incautious party.  Again the monsters have good tactics and bad guy won't fight to his re-death.

Overall:  A nicely done little booklet.  Getting three dungeons that you can plop into any campaign is good, the quality of the work is excellent even if the creativity isn't of the same standard.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Blog Carnival - Epic Moment of GMing

My most memorable time being on the receiving end of an outstanding show of DMsmanship, took place almost thirty years ago.  As I recall, it was Christmastime, I had just gotten married and had flown back up to the Twin Cities to finish the paperwork before going to Naval Officer Candidate School.  Some of the old group were home on leave and a few others hadn't graduated yet.  We decided to get together at the Armory and play Call of Cthulhu.

  I was playing "Moose" a private detective and former lineman with the Duluth Eskimos professional football team.  We were investigating mysterious occurrences at an old house.  I (still do) had a copy of the 1st Edition CoC role playing game and had read a few Lovecraft stories, enough to get a sense that the heroes are usually screwed.

U of MN Armory
As the short winter's afternoon light drained from the windows, the mysterious occurrences kept piling up.  We were charged by a stuffed okapi in a library among other things.  The tension was palpably mounting as we closed in on the source of the trouble, would it be a Deep One or a Polyp or something worse that would mercifully strip our characters of sanity as their flesh was rent asunder and souls blasted forever?

It was a damn leprechaun.  Nothing from the Mythos was involved at all.

What made it epic?  The atmosphere, being pretty much alone in a big masonry castle as the light fades.   The Keeper feeding our suspicions of a horror around the corner and the denouement.  Harris had suckered us in, in a truly epic style.

Submitted for the RPG Blog Alliance March Blog Carnival at Kobold Enterprise.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Treasury - Portal of Eibon

An oval shaped inlay of a reddish metal - neither gold nor copper, nor any metal named by man.  When mounted on an exterior vertical surface, it allows the possessor to pass through it to another place or time.

When pushed, the portal will swing open on unseen hinges, providing a means of passing through whatever surface it is mounted on to another location.

The portal may be freely detached and moved to another location with no ill-effects, however every time the portal is moved, randomly determine it's destination.

It's important to note that travel through the portal is one way.  Users must provide their own means of returning to their home.  Nor does the portal offer the voyager any protection or adaptation to the conditions and inhabitants of the destination.

Random Locations

2  Sea bottom of Barsoom
3   Gormenghast
4   Random Plane of the Abyss
5   Steampunk London of Jack the Ripper
6   Mountains of Madness
7   Alternate Material Plane
8   Plane of Shadows
9   The corpse of a dead deity on the Astral plane
10 Mount Olympus
11  Starship Warden
12  Post-apocalyptic Las Vegas
Inspiration: Clark Ashton Smith: The Door to Saturn

Monday, March 11, 2013

Soloplay Game Report: Teuta - Act I, Scene 2

Phrygian Cap
  The throbbing behind her ear brought Teuta back to consciousness.  Opening her eyes, she saw she was in a small room, dimly lit by the lit coming through cracks in the shutters.  She could hear muted voices in the next room, but no one was watching her.  She fumbled at the cord binding her hands, found and end and quietly freed herself.  Looking aruond, she spotted her belt with it's daggers and pouch tossed in a corner.  Buckling it on she went to the door and listened. She recognized the Toad's harsh voice, saying something about the assassination.  
  She moved to the window and eased the bar out of the shutters, peering through the slits, she saw that she was on the ground floor of a building in one of the little alleys near the Dockside gate.  She couldn't tell if the Toad had left someone on guard out in the alley or not.  Speed, she decided, would be better than stealth in this situation.   
  She threw the shutters back with a clatter, just as Alkemachos entered the room.  Judging from the bellow behind him, the Toad had followed him in.  She used the window sill to give herself a boost up the wall and quickly reached the roof.  Looking down she saw Alkemachos slowly climbing after her.  As she turned away, she notcied a glint of metal in a shadow down the alley, was that a figured in a cloak and Phyrgian cap?  Teuta sprinted to the far edge of the roof and launched herself across the gap to the next building as she heard  the older thief gain the rooftop behind her.  She stumbled as she landed, but quickly ran to the opposite side.  She heard a thump and a scream, looking back the roof tops were empty.  She whisked away into the shadows towards the Laughing Eel. 

As she approached the Eel, light spilled out with Lucius and his friends as they tumbled out the door. Maedus was in full armor. She straightened and came up to him, say "You can't wear that in the walls, someone will call out the Families. 
In a slightly distance voice, Maedus responded "The Proskyntos are already out and when we find out who tried to have Epiphroditus killed, we'll destroy them to the last."
"Epiphroditus? But the Phrygian killed Klephtis tonight. Why would he agree to two jobs in one night? It would be so much harder to pull off."
"More than one man can kill,." Lucius interjected ,"Why in Rome there's a dozen assassinations a night. Compared to that this is a trifle."
"If the families have been raised, we'll never get out the gates tonight, and I'll need a new place to lie low." Tueta launched into a brief explanation of her night.
"Come up to my tutor's, old Lysixenos won't be bothered by Traodinus and his gang. They'd be afraid he'd really turn them all into toads! We'll all escort you up there. Maedus and Sumakos can meet us there in the morning."
Agreeing they turned down the street and walked to the Stoa.

A crowd was waiting in the square by the Oricum gate the next morning. Looking, they saw that each group leaving was being questioned by the guard and the contents of carts were being prodded with spears.
"They won't let us out" Maedus said, as he rested the sack containing his armor, shield and sword to the ground. "We're not farmers or traders, we don't have a reason to be leaving today. Not after the attack on Epaphroditus last night."
"Nonsense," Sumakos responded "I'm traveling to the oracle at Dodona to have my dream concerning the two goats and the lyre interpreted, and you're accompanying me."
Teuta smiled, "It's my father's friend, Demetrios, in charge, he may not let us through, but we won't be reported." and gestured to the armored man leaning against the wall out of the sun, within the shadow of the gate.

The crowd shuffled forward, picking it's way around the the steaming remains of the draft animals' breakfasts, until they were at the front of the queue.
Demetrios straightened up and strode out to them, waving his subordinates over. "You lot send someone to get us a jar of wine, it's going to be a hot day.", as be passed them a few coppers. "I'll take this bunch."
He walked up until his feet were almost touching Sumakos' sandals. "What's your excuse for a sudden trip into the countryside, armed to the teeth?"
Ignoring Sumakos' mumbled explanation of his desire to see the oracle, Demetrios said quietly to Teuta, "Your father hunted me up last night, after he heard about Klephtis' murder. He was worried about you, I'll tell him I saw you safely out of town. When you get settled, send me a message, I'll make sure it gets to him without Troadinus hearing about it."
"But the gates are shut, won't you be questioned about letting us through?"
"If the council bothers to ask, I'll mention that I passed a party that included a young Proskyntos lad", nodding at Maedus; "a most devout holy man and a Roman twerp from the Stoa." he finished sarcastically. "You'll just be some pretty lass I've seen around town."
With that he turned and started yelling at his men for the wine as they passed through the gate.

See the Epirus Nova page for previous scenes.
[How the story played out in Mythic below the jump]

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Treasury - Goddess of the Ebon Moon

An 18 inch tall statuette of a humanoid female. It appears as an incredibly beautiful female of the viewer's race, carved out of an unknown dark wood, standing within a crescent moon.
The possessor gains the ability to move from shadow to shadow unseen.  The possessor also gains low light vision as follows:
New moon - 15'
Waxing/Waning moon - 30'
Full moon - 60'

To use these abilities the user must sacrifice one pound of silver per month.

Inspiration: Clark Ashton Smith The Venus of Azombeii

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Teddy Roosevelt and the Orcs

 TR, before he became a politician, had aspirations as a historian. His history of the War of 1812 is regarded as a solid overview, although not considered a first tier history. In that regard, he's on the level of Churchill - who he had to dinner at the Whitehouse, leading to a mutual dislike.

Recently I've been going through his four volume The Winning of the West, the original trans-Allegheny west, written just after his sojourn in South Dakota. Now if you're someone who is offended because an author writing in the 1880's doesn't have your enlightened opinions, don't read them. TR was a man who tried to epitomize his time, not to transcend it.  He views his subjects in terms of race and nationality that are out of vogue today.  And yet, despite or perhaps because of his over generalizations, he successfully describes the cultural differences between the tribes and the settlers which made the conflict not only inevitable, but inevitably brutal on both sides.

Which brings me to the humble orc, the archtypical fantasy bad guy.  The common reason given for the conflict between the 'civilized' races and the orcs is the fecundity of the orcs leads them to erupt in lemming like hordes throwing themselves over the barbaric precipice to drown in a sea of civilization.  They form a constant threat to the adventurers and are in return butchered in vast numbers. A brutal one dimensional interaction within the game.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Trapping 101 - The Portcullis

  One of the factors that kindled my interest in the OSR movement (the term itself being a matter for debate) was a sense of dissatisfaction with the plethora of skill checks 3.x brought into my life.  I'm lousy at coming up with off the cuff descriptions of the players actions, what does it mean when they rolled and found a trap? 

So I reached for my trusty IDE (MS Visual Studio at the time) and coded me some trap descriptions - including defining the trigger mechanism and what the characters might notice - when and if they detect the trap.

There are many different types of traps, but since I was coding it I started by grouping traps by type, mostly so that I could weight the occurrence of each type within the dungeon and by challenge rating (3.x remember).
Trap Type - D100

01-05  Spells - Traps that involve magical effects
06-20 Weapons - Traps that swing a blade or club or fire a missile
21-40  Deadfalls - Traps that drop something
41-65  Channeling - Traps that prevent/require the characters to move along certain paths.  (Chutes, Portcullises)
66-00  Pit traps - Word of advice from my players "Don't ask the cleric to open the chest.  She can't heal herself afterwards."

For each type I then determine what the characters might notice about the trap itself.  Using a portcullis for an example:
 1.  They see a row of evenly spaced chips in the floor
 2.  They spot a thin gap in the ceiling
4-6 They spot the trigger.

Portcullis Triggers
 1. They see a small raised area of the floor about 7cm square. [Stepping on the lever triggers the trap]
 2. They feel the floor start to give under their foot. [Stepping on the lever triggers the trap]

 3. They see a thin cord stretched across the floor. [Pulling a tripwire triggers the trap]
 4. They see a thin wire stretched across the floor. [Pulling a tripwire triggers the trap] 
 5. They feel a resistance at ankle level. [Pulling a tripwire triggers the trap] 
 6. They spot a creature that looks like a greyish brown fried egg on the wall. [It's a Trap Limpet - a magical construct that can trigger and reset a trap.  It will be a forthcoming Beastiary entry.]
 7. As they lift the container, they feel it being pushed higher by an unseen force. [Moving the container triggers the trap]
 8. The container rests on a small pedestal. [Moving the container triggers the trap]

Oh, and despite my categorizing it as 'Channeling', I did kill a character with one once, when the thief failed to find it, it dropped on the guy fifth in line behind him.  Cause of death - multiple BIG stab wounds.

I'll walk through more traps, triggers and what they see in further posts.  If you have suggestions to add for triggers and observations, please leave them in the comments.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Beastiary - Rat King

A Rat King is a loathsome mastermind of vermin.capable of controlling and directing a swarm of it's brethren with malice and intent.

Worse, the Rat King is said to be able to exert a hideous control over the people unfortunate enough to encounter it.

Whether it's a naturally occurring freak of nature or the spawn of demented wizards is unknown.  It takes the form of four or more rats with their tails tied into a single large knot.  The physical connection prevents the Rat King from moving above it's base speed. Its gait has been described by survivors as flowing rather than walking. 

The Rat Kings hit dice and intelligence vary by the number of rats tied together.  Beginning at an IQ of 3 with 1 Hit Die at four rats, it gains one point of IQ for every two rats added, and one hit die for every four rats added.  So a Rat King with 16 rats would have an IQ of 9 and 4 hit dice; with 32 it grows to an IQ of 17 and 8 hit dice.

All Rat Kings have the following spell like abilities:  Command Animal, at will;  Charm Person or Mammal, once per point of intelligence per day; Suggestion ,once per hit die per day.  If your system varies the saving throw by caster level, treat each point of intelligence as a caster level.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I hate it when I do that

I've been working on adding a page with links to my campaign materials.  One of the links is to be to an updated version of the Relationship Diagram I did for Who's Got Their Back?  But I couldn't remember what I had used to create the PNG in the first place.  I played with GIMP, I downloaded Inkscape to try to edit it, I tried the humble Paint app.  Nothing was right.  After spending several hours of my limited free time, I found it tonight - I had used Open Office Draw and saved it with my GIMP maps <sigh>.

 Well, I've been meaning to play with Inkscape ever since I started reading +matt jackson over at ...lapsus calumni...  Learning that should soak up even more of my time.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Seventh Expedition

[This post is courtesy of and thanks to Slick's player +Greg Pariana - RDT]The dwarven team was summoned to the pathfinder’s office. Thunk and the other guy was busy and so Drunk and the cleric and I replied.

There were a couple of female half elves there as well – tall and full of attitude. They were called Sparkle, Dazzle or something like that [Her name is Jewel - RDT] and that was the magic user, she was new to this. And then the other one was a third again our height and always busy blathering about something.

It was suggested that they come with us. We agreed but we would let them step up whenever we could.

We were asked to go back to the library/museum. A Blackcross woman – scout – agent found something on her travels and brought it back to study and then disappeared. They sent 3 guys to go find her and they did not come back. We were to find out what is going on, find what she brought back. If we could bring her back alive, they would like that as well. We do so well under those conditions.

We were led to a ramp and walked down. The she-elves needed light to see – too tall, too skinny, and now giving our positions away.

We went to Storage Room 1, we found a griffin – dead, stuffed and attacking. The magic user hit the young-one and she doubled her size. Between Drunk and her, the griffin went gone again.

Storage Room 2 we found 2 statues that came to life. Drunk hit one with a club that went poof. We then started to attack with metal weapons. The really big she-elf was using her blade. Not the brightest maneuver, but it worked.

In a reading room we found one of the missing guys. Half-eaten and dissolved. We also found key paperwork that I was able to read.

We went to Storage Room 3 and this blob of eyes and mouths came at us. I got spat at and blinded but the team took out another critter.

We found a hidden door and used that and could tell that it had not been used in a while. This part had glowing mushrooms, screaming mushrooms, talking mushrooms and a lot of issues for us, but we survived and found the Blackcross dame’s haversack and the tall she elf found a trap door.

We took turns going down the spiral stairs and the newbie She-elf almost broke her neck, what is worse is that she almost broken our wands. It was a good thing I could use them.

Horrid use of a lower level – a real nasty layout and we found a metal box with a trap and I took care of the trap but then a stone started to scream and I got attacked by a spider swarm. The cleric had bottles of fire and with them and after a couple tries, killed the swarm. We went through a curtain and there was the Blackcross dame with 5 tentacles coming from a dimensional rift. the Metal cylinder was up above acting like a type of key.

She was possessed and suddenly there were 5 zombies. We worked at killing the zombies and then the possessed puppet Blackcross chick magic missile’d our magic she elf and nearly killed her again. We cut the tethers, The big she elf, Dragonthorn or something like that, broke the cylinder per our instructions and partially closed the portal. With a little grief, we took the Blackcross Chick and her papers and trickets back up top. We did good. The cleric did point out, he did not even get a scratch this time. Boy, he sure nows to temp fate.

Submitted by Graven (Slick) Runehouse

Friday, March 1, 2013

Random Classical Names

Here's a quick table of random names for a Classical campaign.  Iberians are from the area now occupied by Spain and Portugal.  Celts are found in Gaul (France) and the Galatias (Austria/Hungary and Central Turkey.  As people they real got around in the early Iron Age.  Balearians are from the island just east of Spain, they were known as masters of the sling.  Numidians are from the area of North Africa now occupied by Algeria.

1 Ablon Aius Abitas Artorius Ambon Amunet (F) Oxyntas Ayub
2 Aretaunin (F) Ama (F) Menaixmos Exominus Balsetas Panhsj Bomilcar Maha (F)
3 Daleninar (F) Cado Achima (F) Mercatius Caninie (F) Beset (F) Iampsas Khaldun
4 Edecon Eskutino Mrogos Porcius Letondon Ahmose Adherbal Badrak
5 Korbis Segisamo Omrikos Tadius Stena (F) Aser Ezena Thair
6 Tarknbiur Tarbantu Ekpaglos Calpurnius Thurro Biridiya Anno (F) Basel
7 Unibetin Tureno Gilpuris Caprasia (F) Uxentio Deshret Gauda Farri
8 Urcebas Umarilo Prokris (F)_ Nemonius Carciro Djahi Massiva Helal
9 Attenes Ana (F) Senm Sempronius Korbis Hepu Salammbo (F) Dabir
10 Caikonbe Avaro Thutelia Vitellius Isbataris Henku Mastanabal Togmaoui
11 Gargoris Durato Katlos Bassilla (F) Indortes Paser Nabdalsa Irwah
11HabisHilernoTlasGrattiusMagavaricoRensiZeteresHuthum (F)