Up until my move back to Texas last summer, I lived and worked in the post-industrial train wreck of a city called Detroit. Early on in my seven-winter tenure there, a colleague at the magazine I worked for gave me some half-baked advice about coping with the Motor City: try a positive re-frame and embrace the city in all its ruined charm.
I never managed to get my head around the human misery factor enough to ever quite make that full embrace, but I did fall in on occasion with a peculiar, brave crowd of urban explorers who have.
The covert tours of magnificent hulking buildings (such as the old main train station downtown pictured here), always managed to evoke inside of me the lost-glory awe of Howard-esque ruined cities. The implied sense of danger that came with trespassing in a rough place added to that dramatic tension in a way exploring old West Texas forts or castle ruins in Europe never managed to do. Calling on those memories at times have helped me draw a mental picture of the forbidden dungeons and sunken cities I populate my campaign world with.
Still I have yet to fully capture the totality of that feeling. My maps and scenery descriptions just have never quite hit the mark. They miss something of the scope, adrenalin edge, and pathos of those walking tours.
Travelling back to Michigan in recent months it hit me what I was missing: I wanted a large, sprawling setting that was not quite a full, monster-inhabited ruin, nor simply a run-down fantasy metropolis.
Pulling back to memories of the works of the great medieval historian, Steven Runciman, I suddenly remembered his sad, yet beautifully eloquent description of Constantinople, before its fall to the Turks in 1453. He wrote of the city, which had shrunk from a population of a million in the 12th century down to about a hundred thousand at the time:
"Of the suburbs along the Thracian shores, once studded with splendid villas and rich monasteries, only a few hamlets were left, clustering around some ancient church. The city itself, within its 14 miles of walls, had even in its greatest days, been full of parks and gardens, dividing the various quarters. But now many quarters had disappeared, and fields and orchards separated those that remained. The traveller Ibn Battuta counted 13 hamlets within its walls...In many districts you would have thought you were in the open countryside, with wild roses blooming in the hedgerows in spring and nightengales singing in the copses."
Re-reading that passage cemented it for me. I wanted a city that had a vestiage of human civilization surrounded by an internal wilderness--a "point of light" in the confine of a large-scale urban setting. Why not a once-great metropolis with a valiant human garrison manning sprawling long sets of triple walls beset both internally and externally? Why not a mega-dungeon of sorts sprawling horizontally above ground and here and there punctuated with hard-pressed human "wards"? And best of all, why not plop this mini-sandbox right down on a time-forgotten border of the Hill Cantons sandbox...
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
A little bird tells me that Songs of the Dying Earth is not the only limited-edition volume of Vancian virtuosity coming out of Subterranean Press this summer. Apparently the Michigan-based publisher is also releasing Vance’s autobiography, This is Me, Jack Vance (complete with the pure-awesome editorial geek subtitle Or More Properly, This is “I”) , and a collection of short stories Wild Thyme, Green Magic. The latter will include a Dying Earth short, so it’s a two-fer as far as I am concerned.
Also yesterday doing a little digging for Vance’s influence on Gary Gygax and early D&D I found the following gem of an essay in which Gygax himself explicitly lays it all out. What more to say on this then?
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Jack Vance is often considered one of the patron saints of old-school D&D, thanks to Gary Gygax's "almost famous" Appendix N stuck in the back of the first edition of the Dungeon Masters' Guide. Besides contributing the game's "fire-and-forget" magic system, his picaresque tales were a great inspiration to the whole feel of the game in its infancy.
Closer to home, his clever, baroquely-described Lyonesse series has left inspiring touches and homages all over the Hill Cantons. (Just ask the mage, August, who had the great misfortune of picking up a certain odd emerald-colored pearl a few sessions back.)
So, it's with great excitement that I note that Songs of the Dying Earth, a collection of novellas and short stories set in Vance's Dying Earth (naturally)--and edited by one of the few other fantasy authors that can write worth a damn, George R.R. Martin--is now finally being put to press. Besides the formidable Martin, contributors to the book look like a veritable All-Stars team including Dan Simmons, Neil Gaiman, Glen Cook, and Robert Silverberg. The book should be hitting bookstores around August. Yay.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Ok, so, the title might be a little misleading (it got you here at least). As I wrote a couple weeks ago, I'm not so much interested in building out a full-fledged fantasy-variant Traveller, as I am in adopting some of its principal character generation elements into a fun, simple, and loose mini-game compatible with old school D&D.
With that in mind, I came up with a few design methods and goals to help guide the project:
1.Take my background and chargen charts as a baseline for the character's previous career. Think of this as the equivalent of rolling the terms of service in Traveller.
2.Tie-in some of its results with a simple background skills system such as BFRPG's Backgrounds and Specialties Supplement. To keep it more on the D&D feel side of things I believe it must be somewhat vague and simple on the skills provided.
3.Provide both risks and rewards from background rolls: ability hikes/losses, more/less starting gear, more/less starting cash, and the like. Think the mustering-out, survival and promotion charts of Traveller merged.
4.Orient it to low and mid-level starting characters (levels 1-5).
Below you can see my first two draft efforts. I'm currently working on other tables for “positive” and "neutral" background events, military service, religious or magical experiences along the same general lines of the traumatic events table.
I'm already running into all kinds of dilemmas. Does this over or under balance starting characters? What level of detail should I provide on results? How do you categorize “traumatic” or “positive” outcomes? How do you make it class-specific? Etc. etc.
1. If you were apprenticed and rolled on Chart 2A: Craft, you get the “Tradesman” background skill set.
2. If you learned (or were apprenticed in) an occupation by rolling on Chart 2: Occupation, and rolled:
...Craftsman/Skilled worker or Merchant, you get the “Tradesman” background.
...Peasant/Farmworker or Farmer, you get the “Farmer” background.
...Miner/Forester, you get the “Outdoorsman” background.
...Fisherman or Sailor, you get the “Seafarer” background.
...Soldier/Mercenary, you get the “Soldier” background.
...Slaver, you get the “Barbarian” background.
...Government Official, Gentleman, or Noble, you get the “Aristocrat” background.
....Sage/Scholar/Alchemist or Scribe, you get the “Scholar” background.
1. For each traumatic event (being orphaned, having family killed, killing someone, having a comrade killed, etc.) rolled on Chart 3: Childhood or Chart 4: Young Adulthood, you must roll once the Trauma Chart.
2. If you roll a traumatic event on a sub-table of Chart 3 or 4 (military service, religious experience, magical occurrence, etc.) you must roll ONE TIME ONLY on the Trauma Chart.
Trauma Chart (Roll d20)
1 “Folded, spindled, and/or mutilated”, -1 to ability of your choice
2-4 “I blame society”, roll once on Chart 4D: Vice
5-10 “It left a mark”, physical/emotional scar but otherwise no effect
11-16 “Got lucky”, no effect
17-19 “I rise to the occasion”, roll once on Chart 4C: Virtue
20 “Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger”, +1 to ability of your choice.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
As a precocious kid, one of the things that attracted me to D&D circa 1980 was its DIY ethos. Sure there were plenty of published modules, supplements, campaign settings, and canonical rule books to fall back on and take imagination short cuts with, but on the whole what was exciting was the overall sense that we were creating entire worlds of our own from the ground up.
This attraction to DIY culture carried with me long after leaving behind tabletop roleplaying somewhere around mid-high school. Instead of merely reading Spin or even Maximum Rock n' Roll as good little consumers, my friends and I would put out our own scrappy little photocopied 'zines jammed filled with stories on hardcore punk shows, political diatribes, quirky commentaries, and the like--all reflecting and reinforcing other DIY cultural efforts around us. Before nestling down later in actual--gasp--paying journalism desk jobs, I would be involved in other DIY "grown-up" efforts from starting alternative campus papers to community radio stations.
Which is all a rather long-winded autobiographical wind-up for saying why--after returning again to playing RPGs last year after an almost 20-year hiatus--I have felt so utterly thrilled and inspired to see an immensely creative and participatory DIY movement afoot again in the hobby I loved so much back in the day. One can just take a look at Jeff Rients' recent long list of old school RPG publishing outfits to get a sense of how this is snowballing.
And I'm doubly stoked that I have had an opportunity to be able to participate myself by way of one of the finest DIY outfits on Jeff's list: Basic Fantasy RPG. A cleaned-up version of the quick character generator system I have been riffing on here at the HC blog has been published and released under that system. It can be downloaded as a PDF or Open Office document here (scroll down the screen a few entries).
Friday, May 8, 2009
Jon in Seattle mentioned in an offline discussion the rumored existence of a Hunter class that Gary Gygax was kicking around for AD&D 1e after his untimely departure from TSR. Having heard zippo about this before, I was as much intrigued as I had been yesterday about the Amazon.
With a little cyber-sleuthing I was pleasantly surprised to find that Gygax had indeed penned such an article in 1988 in the short-lived magazine Realms of Adventure. For your reading pleasure the article is appended below.
Before beginning the exposition I want to express my pleasure at again being able to offer new approaches in play to all the enthusiasts of fantasy gaming. As time and space permits I’ll try to provide several more character classes for your consideration in the fantasy game milieu. Read on, and when you’ve finished please consider dropping me a line to let me know what you think. Suggestions and requests for new professional approaches are always given thoughtful reading. One further thing. This is all quite ‘unofficial’, as another entity possesses all rights to the AD&D game. Nonetheless I think you’ll find hunters nice additions to your campaign.
This profession is as much one of circumstance as purpose. The hunter is one who was born in a wilderness area and grew up in primitive conditions requiring a knowledge of woodcraft, fishing, trapping, tracking, knowing the flora and fauna for many reasons, and hunting to sustain life. There might be rare exceptions to this, but generally the hunter is one of savage, barbaric background. There are, of course, hunters from open plains areas, frozen tundra, and barrens. Such individuals are of more nomadic sort than the class considers, and in general these backgrounds are more akin to the barbarian class. The hunter class considers a wooded homeland as the principal training ground, and this should suit most campaign milieus.
Race: Humans, elves (wild races only), half-elves and half-orcs can be hunter characters. There is no upper limit to progression for any race.
Armor & Weapons: Treat hunter characters as barbarians in regards to the wearing of armor and use of weapons. However the hunter may have two weapon specializations, one of which must be the spear. The player is allowed to select his or her second specialization.
Strength bonuses: As a fighter class character.
Dexterity bonuses: Begins at 14 with +1 and go up in steps of +1, so 18 dexterity gives +5 for armor addition, reaction and missile adjustment.
Constitution bonuses: As fighter.
Attack Ability: A hunter uses the table for fighters. When combating opponents of human or near-human sort, which fight with hands or weapons like those of humans, the hunter is at a –2 penalty to hit. When combating opponents of other nature (animal. Reptile, fish, beast, monster) the hunter is at +2 to hit. In the latter case any modified score of 20 or greater on the ‘to hit’ die roll indicates maximum damage for the weapon employed.
Saving Ability: Hunters use the same table as fighters but gain a +2 bonus against any attack form requiring a saving throw which comes from an animal-like opponent (a basilisk, a dragon, etc).
Hunter Profession: As barbarians never require training to advance in ability level, so too hunters are never in need of any sort of formal schooling. They always advance by ‘on-the-job experience’, as it were. If the circumstances of any adventure indicate a lack of related experience for hunter character advancement, the DM will always reduce his or her reward to match circumstances.
Minimum Characteristics: The hunter must have minimum statistics of S 15, I 12, W 12, D 15, and Con 14. There is no minimum Charisma.
Experience Bonus: The minimum statistics for a hunter total 68 (exclude Charisma). Any total of 73 or greater earns a 10% bonus in awarded experience.
HUNTER TABLE I
Exp. Point Total /Level #/of d12*/ Name attributed
0-3,000/ 1/ 1/ Forester
3,001-6,000/ 2/2/ Frontiersman
6,001-12,500/ 3/ 3/ Woodsman
12,501-25,000/ 4/4/ Backwoodsman
25,001-50,000/ 5/ 5/ Trapper
50,001-100,000/ 6/ 6/ Tracker
100,001-175,000/ 7/ 7/ Stalker
175,001-300,000/ 8/ 8/ Huntsman
300,001-500,000/ 9/ 9/ Hunter
500,001-1,000,000/ 10/ 9+3/ Huntmaster
For each additional 500,000 of earned experience an additional level is added and 3 additional hit points are gained. Above 9th level, characters are simply referred to as ‘Huntmaster’ without reference to degree of excellence (i.e. 10th, 11th etc is omitted).
*The d12 is ‘averaged’ in that a roll of 1 is treated as 4, a roll of 2 is treated as 5, and a roll of 12 is treated as 6. The initial hit point determination roll for a 1st level hunter character must always be 6 or better, but thereafter any result (with averaging) is possible.
HUNTER TABLE II
Experience level of hunter/ Chance of success*
11th and up/ +2% per level to 75% max.
*The DM may allow some added chance for success if additional preparation time is taken and there are such considerations as distractions, camouflage and the like. Deduction is likewise to be made for care, having an experienced guide (such as another hunter), magic, etc. Naturally a spell will surely discover snares and traps if the dweomer has the power to do so. A hunter is able to detect others’ snares and traps at a likelihood of 10% below that with which he or she is able to build them personally.
Additional Hunter Skills:
Animal Friendship. The hunter character may create a special bond with a hunting animal – dog, wolf, large cat or even a bear. The animal cannot have more hit dice than the hunter has experience levels. It will require a month of constant attention to form the special bond after an animal has been befriended, and the animal must spend at least one half of the time thereafter with the hunter. If desired, the hunter may free one animal and befriend another, but at no time can there be more than one special animal attached to the hunter. The chance of striking friendship is shown on HunterTable II, though a hunter of high level is not restricted by the 75% maximum. The DM may adjust the chance of success as necessary due to circumstances. The animal will hunt for and with its master/mistress, perform simple acts upon direction, and generally behave as very loyal and most intelligently for its species. Typical acts such an animal can perform are:
Hunt down and chase
Come back on command
Highly intelligent animals might carry things to some known place if the command is understood.
Build Snares & Traps. These constructions will catch game or enemies. The hunter can construct any of the following in the times shown below and with the noted effects on any victim:
Snare: 30 minutes; save vs. DEATH or victim killed.
Deadfall: 1 hour; 4d6 damage.
Heavy Deadfall: 2 hours; save vs. DEATH or victim killed; 6d6 damage if save made.
Pit Trap: 4 hours; save vs. DEATH to avoid unconsciousness for 1 hour, 1d6 damage + 1d6/stake placed by hunter up to 10, with d10 roll by victim to determine how many stakes are effective; no escape, or at least 1 minute required to get out of pit (DM determination).
Spring Trap: 15 minutes; 4d4 damage; successful ‘to hit’ roll must be made by trap against victim’s armor class to inflict damage, but no dexterity bonuses allowed (because the trap is a surprise).
The chance of any snare or trap functioning is determined by the hunter’s experience level, as shown on Table II.
Construct Simple Weapons. The hunter is able to fashion weapons as indicated below. The chance of a weapon breaking on use is the inverse of the skill of the hunter, as shown on Table II (so a weapon fashioned by a 1st level hunter has a 79% chance of breaking when used, unless this chance is modified).
Club: 10 minutes; +20% on skill for fashioning.
Spear: 30 minutes; +10%.
Knife: 1 hour; +5%.
Stone Axe: 3 hours.
Bow: 6 hours with 3 arrows, each additional arrow 1 hour.
Track. This includes identification of any footprints, signs, and spoor of any sort. The hunter is able to track the quarry detected at a base chance as shown on Table II, with modifications as below:
Sign under 1 hour old +20%
Sign under 3 hours old +10%
Sign under 1 day old 0
Sign over 1 day old -5%
Sign over 2 days old -10%
Simple concealing of sign used -10%
Rain or other similar disturbance -20%/hour
Thus, if the quarry took a well-traveled road for example, and there was a fair amount of traffic passing along it afterwards, the sign would be obliterated at the rate of 20% per hour, and after 5 hours it would be untrackable. Ahunter is able to conceal sign as well as he or she is able to detect it, but for each non-hunter (or skilled woodsman) in the group with the character the ability is reduced by 5%.
Treat Injury. Damage from wounds of any sort can be treated by a hunter. The hunter can stop bleeding and set sprains or broken bones. The immediate effect on the patient is a gain of 1-4 hit points, and healing will then proceed at +1 point/day above normal rate for as many days as the hunter has levels of experience.
Treat Illness. Illness includes poisoning of any sort. Toxins can be slowed in effect by any hunter, and illness or parasitic infection delayed for as many days as the hunter has levels of experience. Simple poisons, illnesses, and infestations can be cured totally by a hunter of 6th or higher level with a base chance of 5% per level of the hunter; the DM may adjust this for severity of the problem and special knowledge of the hunter.
Woodcraft. Ability to employ woodcraft as shown on Table II. Included in this skill category are:
Climb cliffs and trees (+20%)
Determine best route through wilderness
Know direction and avoid becoming lost (+10%)
Mimic animal and bird calls
Scout ahead for danger
Shelter finding or construction
Making clothing (+10%)
Supply game, fish and other food (+20%)
Locate pure water (+20%)
The DM may wish to adjust probabilities according to circumstances.
Until next time, good gaming!
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Exploring the sandy environs of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes in the Hill Cantons last Saturday, the players stumbled upon a series of low, distant islands on the horizon. While they have yet to fill in this particular blank spot on their map, it has given me leeway to expand the invisible walls of their sandbox a little more. A noteworthy part of this mysterious, magically-shrouded chain is an island ruled by the legendary iron-willed Amazon queen Antianara.
This little piece of campaign lore wouldn't normally drag a blog entry out of me if it wasn't for a recent inspired bit of serendipitous postings on the Troll Lord Games and Knights-n-Knaves Alehouse boards about nixing barbarians as a class in favor of reclassifying them as playable races in C&C and AD&D 1e. Amongst the satisfyingly diverse group of suggestions for new, variegated barbarian races tricked out with their own custom attribute hikes and racial/cultural abilities is the Amazon. Count me among the intrigued.
Down here in the human-centric HC we have been sloppy with barbarians, now numbering no less than four out of our 14 PCs. It's doubtful that we'll go the full way and dump our valiant, ill-smelling northern brothers as a class mid-stream, but I do see an opening for introducing the Amazon as an option for new characters.
While I may yet adopt Keolander's yeoman work on Hyperboreans, Steppe, and Desert barbarian races at an appropriate moment, my own campaign's conception of what constitutes an Amazon is a bit at odds with the conception posited on the previously-mentioned boards. The Amazon presented there seems more of an agile, jungle-setting kinda race of wimmin folk (they climb trees and cliffs well, get a bonus on their starting Dexterity, wear light armor, yadda yadda) than the somewhat more-civilized, strong-boned Greek Mythical/Black Sea Amazons I am imagining.
Besides a bit more gravitas, what would this other Amazon entail in game terms? A bonus to strength? A penalty to Charisma for their brusque arrogance? Bonuses to hit with a spear or short bow? What classes would be compatible?
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Today's post features a guest appearance from my long-time friend and co-thinker in Seattle, Jon. Like myself, Jon compulsively has to tinker around under the hood with a rules set. Recently he's been striving to "crunch-ify" tactical options in C&C (and AD&D first edition likely with some modification). with a homebrewed grid-based system. You can download the full version here.
Jon's eager to see how they fare in the thunder and fury of actual table top play, so please send along feedback if you decide to experiment with them. Hill Cantons players will be play-testing these rules at our next session.