Monday, December 13, 2010

The Many Fold Thieves of Wyrd Greyhawk.

Notes upon the subtle distinctions betwixt, and the hidden hierarchy of, the many fold thieves of Wyrd Greyhawk.

Those who commit theft or fraud may be thieves in action, yet not thieves in class.
The greater part of the NPC inhabitants of Wyrd Greyhawk are not classed characters at all, but merely 1 hit die Men as per the Monster Manual entry.

Persons generally seen as thieves, rogues, scoundrels, tricksters, beggars, knaves, or other such followers of underworld vocations may be practitioners of particular methods of illicit income generation without actually being Thief Class Characters.

In order to distinguish them from PC or NPC Thief Class Characters, they are referred to as Lesser Thieves. Such non-Thief thieves may have some ability in a particular type of thieving ability, such as a greater than normal chance of picking pockets, yet no other ability expected of a genuine Thief Class Character.

As an example; Luhn the Nip, Hit Dice: 1, (hp4), Armor Class: 9, Move: 12”, (120’ per round), Dagger, Special Ability: Pick Pockets as 5th level thief, (50%).
Luhn is a thief of opportunity. A barrel maker’s apprentice, during holidays, fairs, or other gatherings he uses his naturally deft hands, enhanced by a hornblade, a sliver of sharp horn glued to the edge of his thumb nail, to cut purses. Luhn is non-descript, lumpish and dull. Nothing about his appearance will indicate he is anything other than a stolid laborer. On occasion, Luhn allies with amenable barmaids or dancing girls willing to distract a mark in exchange for a share in the ill-gotten gains.

The majority of thieves that PCs might encounter are persons such as Luhn. Not professionals of the Class as are Player Character Class Thieves, but unclassed opportunists of varying degrees of skill and organization.

Such persons may have some skill in any one of the normal thief’s abilities and practice their trade accordingly. A scallywag with the ability to Climb Walls may specialize as a second-story man. A vagabond who can Hide in Shadows, or Move Silently might become an information broker. A scoundrel with the ability to Find/Remove Traps, or Open Locks could rely on breaking and entering.

Some of the more common types of lesser thieves include;

Curbers or Anglers, thieves who steal by reaching hooked staffs or canes through open windows to snatch whatever sellable object presents itself. Curbers may pretend to be blind men or elderly and infirm pedlars, so that their angling sticks may be taken for supports and not recognized for the thieves tools they are.

Divers, a sort of lesser thief-master, who commonly employs small boys, dissipated halflings, or perhaps gnomes of low character, to wriggle through small openings and steal, or open doors from within.

Bludgeoners, who rob only those they may attack from behind and only if they have surprise. They employ clubs, saps or similar weapons. Bludgeoners have a 55% chance of rendering a victim unconscious for 10 rounds if they successfully hit with surprise. If this attack fails, the bludgeoner will immediately retreat. They are not at all interested in a stand up fight.

Bawdy Baskets, itinerant female pedlars and whores of opportunity. With her basket of pins, ribbons, horn cups, caps, wooden spoons and other homely oddments, the bawdy basket seeks entrance into homes, ostensibly to peddle her wares. If the opportunity presents itself, she will be quick to engage in either pilferage or prostitution. A bawdy basket is also likely to act as the eyes of more aggressive thieves, relaying information on things worth stealing and methods of entrance.

Cleymsters are beggars of a most insistent sort who are experts in mimicking the effects of the most fearsome poxes and plagues as well as false sores and lesions. Cleymsters will relentlessly paw at and beg for coin from marks, who most often give them what they want in order to escape as quickly as possible. Occasionally they may work with a cutpurse or foist who takes advantage of the attention they draw in order to pick pockets. PCs who have never encountered a cleymster before will certainly be taken in by their appearance of illness unless they have cause to be suspicious.

Ignoblemen, are masters of confidence and pretense. Arrayed in costly clothing and finery, and attended by servants and footmen, an ignobleman pretends to membership in the aristocracy, usually a travelling noble of some far off land. Ostentatiously sweeping through some sleepy town, burgh, thorp or village, the ignobleman and his entourage will demand lodging, victuals and entertainment. Such is the force of the ignobleman’s manner and charisma that the truth of his assertions of authority and promises of payment are rarely questioned by the towns’ people.

For at time, the ignobleman and his retinue of thieves will live at the villager’s expense while stealing whatever they may, and then when the sham seems soon to be discovered, or the payments for their revelry come due, they will decamp in the night, taking with them whatever they may carry.

Charlatans are similarly confidence men, but usually choose a single, rich victim and spin a web of lies, tales, and false promises in order to lure the mark into willingly giving over his coin in expectation of greater returns on the investment. As does an Ignobleman, a Charlatan expertly pretends to a station or profession which will bestow respectability or expertise upon him in the eyes of the mark. Charlatans are often lesser thieves of high intelligence possessing the Thief’s Skill Read Person. (Read Person allows the thief a % chance to discover a person’s main motive, or greatest desire if able to engage them in conversation for a turn.)

Mobbers are groups of lesser thieves who engage in a sort of en masse pickpocketry. Once they have chosen a wealthy appearing target, the mobbers divide into two groups, blend with the crowd, and maneuver to place the mark between them. Once the target reaches an appropriate location, such as a busy street or market, the two groups suddenly, and loudly, “recognize” each other as deadly enemies and attack. The mark will be caught between them and quickly find himself on the bottom of a pile of flailing fists and thrashing legs. In moments, one group of mobbers will disengage and flee with the second in close pursuit. When the mark manages to pick himself up off the street, he will find that he has been stripped of every item of value which the mobbers might have observed, as well as any pieces of clothing which might have caught the dastards fancy.

The Upright Man. An Upright Man is as much a preyer upon thieves as he is himself a thief. He is acknowledged by the thieves of a given area as a sort of self-appointed Lord and judge. This position he acquires and maintains solely through force of personality, bullying, and manipulation.
An upright man may decide the outcome of conflicts between thieves. He may demand a share in the loot of others. He will rarely participate in the schemes of those he dominates. An upright man often insinuates, and in truth has, ties to the Thieves Guild of the nearest large city. An upright man may be feared by the thieves he encounters, avoided by them when possible, but will be deferred to if not obeyed.

This is only a partial listing of the many infamous specialties in which thieves of the lower sort may practice. The ingenuity and cleverness which they devote towards avoiding the necessity of honest work rivals that of the greatest engineer or artist.

These individuals may operate singly or in informal groups depending upon their preferred methods of thievery. These are not the powerful criminal organizations of the great cities generally referred to as Thieves Guilds, but rather transitory crews of independent thieves and vagabonds. These groups most commonly operate in lesser cities, towns and villages, at events or celebrations such as fairs and tournaments, and in traveler’s taverns, alehouses, brothels, baths and road side Inns.

Small crews are likely to practice a repertoire of grifts and doges depending upon the circumstances. Pretending to represent secular or religious powers in order to levy fraudulent taxes, the selling of false potions and charms, cheating at dice and rigging the outcome of “impromptu” contests with strangers, etc. Any such endeavor which promises the possibility of quick gains without the drudgery of practicing an honest trade.

The Guilds.

Only in the largest and richest cities may be found those shadowed companies known as Thieves Guilds. This term covers a broad assortment of criminal organizations of various sorts. Never will they operate openly as such, even in the most corrupt and decadent city they are hidden behind a veil of propriety and legitimacy.

As with the canting crews of the towns and countryside, no more than a few of the guild members are actually Thief Class Characters. The majority are lesser thieves, porters, teamsters, smugglers, officials of city and court, clerks, forgers, debasers of coin, thugs, enforcers, slayers, spies, fences, or other such 1 hit die Men.
It is likely that actual Thief, Fighter, and Assassin class NPCs of formidable ability hold most of the positions of power within the structure of a guild.

The difference between guild and crew is one of organization and culture as well as method of operation. The crews are often temporary and transient, with direct thievery and fraud of individuals as their goal. They do not survive losses of leaders or members, breaking apart and coming together as circumstances dictate, and moving where ever the pickings seem richest.

The guilds are permanent organizations which hold and control specific territory, usually penetrating government and business, often with complex traditions and subtle rules which are known only to those initiated into the thieves’ mysteries. Whereas the thieves of town and country employ their skills to support themselves as individuals, the members of a great city’s guild act as vassals of the guild master, or guild masters. A kind of criminal feudality in which vassal serves master and master provides for vassal. Though leadership may pass between individuals, this presents no threat to the existence of the guild itself. As they say in Rauxes, “Thieves may die, but the Guild is eternal.”

Simple thievery generates but a small part of the income of a guild. In fact, most of the known guilds do not allow pilfering by their members to get out of hand. The guilds thrive in the shadows and the notoriety brought by overt crime is bad for trade. PC thieves and thieves not affiliated with a guild will be closely watched by guild members if recognized for what they are.

Instead, guilds control and engage in crimes which provide a more steady and reliable stream of revenue.
Smuggling is one of the mainstays of guild business. In any given city there are things which are both desired by the populace, and forbidden to them by the Powers That Be. These things may be weapons, drink, intoxicating substances, etc, the guilds are pleased to supply such items at suitable prices, often passing on to the Forbidding Powers a portion of the proceeds. As illicit items command a greater price when sold under the table than they would if sold legally in an honest market, the portion which goes to the Forbidding Powers is likewise greater than if a simple tax were levied on the sale of said items.

In many cases it may be difficult to discern where the Thieves’ Guild ends and the government begins.

Gambling, in all its many forms, is also a favored guild enterprise. In any large city, the guild nearly always has a hand in any form of established gambling. From cock fighting and owlbear baiting to horse racing and pit fighting, from back room tavern dice games to lotteries and official raffles, the guild will be present in some way to collect its share of the proceeds. In many situations, the guild itself is the sponsor of the event, from behind its mask of legitimate enterprise. If not, certainly those in charge will be persuaded that partnership with the guild is in everyone’s best interests.

Prostitution is likewise most often controlled by the guild in any large city, either directly or indirectly. Successful wayfarers and adventurers, returning to civilization flush with victory and laden with loot, should always remember that the tarts, trollops and courtesans so eager to welcome them and celebrate their great deeds, are also likely the eyes and ears of the Guild. Beside the income generated by their expected skills, information gathering can pay handsomely.

The forgery, of licenses, writs, deeds, letters of passage, or of marquee, grants of authority to collect taxes, or other valuable documents is often also an important guild business.

The nature of the known Thieves Guilds varies greatly depending upon local culture. What may be expected of one may not be so of another.

The Thieves Guild of Rauxes, capital of the Great Kingdom, is baroque in character, subtle in action, immersed deeply in ritual and formal conduct, and evil without the merest glimmer of remorse.
The richest and most powerful, as well as the oldest known Guild, only the Guild of the city of Greyhawk itself rivals the influence of Rauxes.

The Guild of Rauxes is never referred to as such; no acknowledgment of any formal organization will ever be forthcoming from any member in good standing. Instead, the phrase, “Men of Understanding” is used to indicate association with the Guild. The usage arises from the habit of guild thieves to conclude negotiations with the words, “Do we have an understanding?”, or similar words to that effect. Likewise, the phrase, “It is understood that”, may be used to indicate the will of the Guild.

“ Fisilious the glass merchant has become somewhat dawdling in his gratuities. It is understood that this state of affairs cannot continue.”

The Men of Understanding pursue all avenues of illicit endeavor, but are most infamous for subterfuge in pursuit of information, which they broker to those unscrupulous enough to deal with them, assassination, blackmail, slave trading of specialized type, to satisfy rarified tastes, and other, darker, rumored businesses.

So adept at skullduggery are the Guild Thieves of Rauxes, that few King’s Spymasters are willing to risk their pawns in direct conflict with them. Even the insidious and deadly agents of the Scarlet Brotherhood have on more than one occasion, been out maneuvered and forced to withdraw by the ruthless Guild of Rauxes.

The existence of the Thieves Guild of the City of Greyhawk is commonly known, though it is still not talked about openly. Of all such organizations it is the one which most closely follows the form of an actual trade guild. The Guild of Greyhawk is pragmatic, well organized and business minded. Revenge is an indulgence which the Greyhawk thieves largely eschew. Thievery is a trade and a rival one day may become a partner the next day. Vengeance does not buy wine.

The guild of Niole Dra in Keoland is another creature altogether. Rather than forming a unified organization, the thieves of Niole Dra align themselves with a hand full of especially talented individuals to form schools of thievery.
The whole resembles a colony of rival artists, each of whom has a particular style and essential character and his own group of students, emulators and hangers-on.

The thieves of Niole Dra refer to themselves as the Skillful Players and this is a true indicator of the culture of the guild. Many of them are actors, musicians, and artists. Though, of course, they are thieves through and through, to the Skillful Players the act of thievery itself is of equal import as the loot gained thereby. The greater the daring and audacity of the theft, the greater the style and panache with which it is carried out, the more it is admired and its perpetrator acclaimed. Standing within the guild is adjudged by the style with which members carry out their acts of thievery.

Amongst those who have the knowledge and experience to judge, the Skillful Players are held to be both the least evil of thieves, and also the least dependable.

The Guild which operates from Rel Mord in Nyrond has an infamous reputation as a nest of clever schemers and robber lenders who practice complex frauds more often and with greater success than other guilds.
The Coin Counters of Rel Mord, as they are known, are swindlers of rich merchants and unwary aristocracy alike. The forgery of documents and counterfeiting of seals and coinage are also specialties of the changer-thieves. The guildsmen of Rel Mord have no qualms about the use of violence to achieve their goals, but it is never a first resort. Careful legal maneuvering, bribery and blackmail will be employed first, with paid assassins of the highest skill retained only when all else fails.

The Hard Bargainers of Irongate, are tough minded, unbending, cruel humored and loyal, at least towards each other. Smuggling is the major source of their income, and they care not what the cargo may be. The Irongate guild has ties to various pirate groups and is pleased to aid them in disposing of their ill gotten gains.
This is, of course, but a handful of examples of existing thieves guilds.

Assumptions about the nature of, and adjustments too, the Thief Player Character Class for Wyrd Greyhawk.

The purpose of the thief is to steal. This means the thief’s goal is to gain the greatest returns with the least effort and least personal danger. All but the most swashbuckling of thieves will normally avoid melee combat unless the situation is distinctly in their favor.

At the same time, the Player Character thief is no run of the mill knave. Lesser Thieves steal to avoid the effort of work. Guild thieves desire wealth, to be respected or feared, and the power bestowed by membership. The player Character thief is a cut above these unimaginative sorts of thieves. Though a scoundrel and a ne’er-do-well, the PC thief is often a bit of a madcap and a daredevil, with, “at least a diamond chip of the spirit of true adventure”, in the words of the Great Chronicler.

Lesser thieves would never risk life and limb to pluck the jewel eyes from a dark God’s idol when easy marks are to be had playing at tavern dice. Guild thieves would never dare dungeon corridors or ancient tombs when there are shop keeps to be muscled or black lotus of Greyhawk to be smuggled. Only Fortune’s fools, the Adventuring Thieves, risk all to win all.

The Thief Class of Wyrd Greyhawk is the 1E AD&D thief with minor adjustments.

The % chances for success of the thief’s abilities are assumed to be over and above the chance (determined by DM fiat) of a non-thief succeeding in an attempt to accomplish the same act. If an ordinary, non-classed man might have a 10% chance of hiding in shadows in a given situation, then a thief would have a base 10% chance, plus the percentage given due to his level of ability.

All thief PCs receive a +25% bonus to a single thief ability. Which skill receives the bonus may be determined randomly, or the player may be allowed to choose. This bonus is meant to reflect a natural talent for a particular skill. A certain aptitude in one area of thievery, “That lads a born cutpurse!”

No thief’s ability can ever exceed a 95% chance of success regardless of level or bonuses.

Expanded thief’s skills include; Read Person, see the Charlatan entry above, which requires a wisdom score of 12 or more. Also Assess Relative Value, which allows at thief to intuitively choose the most valuable item in a given collection of objects.

In a campaign which includes no demi-human PCs as party members, I also allow thief player characters to utilize the dwarf’s racial ability to Detect Grade or Slope in Passage, and Detect Sliding or Shifting Walls or Rooms as well as the elf’s racial ability to Detect Secret or Concealed Doors.

Real world issues, a craptastic internet connection, and winter lassitude have really cut into my blog posting lately. It irks me. I'm not going away anytime soon though, so don't take me off your blog lists. I'll soldier on and eventually the stars will re align for the OGGA.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Combat Avoidance Bonus to Armor Class.

Combat Avoidance Bonus to Armor Class.

In melee combat, characters expending all their efforts in avoiding incoming attacks, rather than striking back when they have the opportunity, may gain an Armor Class bonus depending upon circumstances.

This bonus is applicable in situations where an unarmed PC is stalling for time to be rescued from attack, or in cases where the PC doesn’t actually wish to harm his attacker, such as when the attacker is a comrade who is being controlled magically or otherwise, by outside forces.

The amount of the bonus, and the way it is administered is left to the DM.

It may take the form of requiring the attacker to roll twice for each attack, and taking the lower number, thus increasing the chance of a miss. Or, the defender’s Dexterity bonus may be doubled, assuming the PC has one. Or, a simple +1, +2, etc, could be awarded to the AC of the combat shirker based upon the level of desperation the DM reads in the Player’s face.

Thieves, for whom the avoidance of combat is second nature, and Friars for whom physical adeptness is a practiced discipline, always have a base +1 Combat Avoidance Bonus in applicable situations, to which bonuses determined by any other method are added.

I haven't been here on the bliggety-blog much in the last month. My internet connection became so unstable it was just about impossible to post anything or visit any of the sites I like. As it turns out, apparently the culprit was Trillian. It seems to have gotten jammed halfway through an update. It's straightened out now and seems to work fine as far as I can tell.

I've also spent alot of time clearing the dead trees out of the woods and turning them into firewood. The damn emerald ash borers have killed most of the ash trees and I'm going to have to replace them. I'm very interested in permaculture, so It's going to be mostly fruit and nut trees that will work in a semi open forest setting that I'll be looking into. We'll have to have something to eat when that moron Bernanke collapses the dollar.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Scachamma. "It came from the river! Gleorg is devoured! Run fools!"


Frequency: Extremely rare.
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 3
Move: 75’ per round maximum
Hit Dice: 15
% in Lair: 80%
Treasure Type: Special
No. of Attacks: 2 per round
Damage/Attack: 4D6 bite, 1D6 tentacle lash, 1D8 per round crushing
Special Attacks: Maw Vortex, venomous facial tentacles
Special Defenses: Unharmed by blunt weapons, only takes ½ Damage from fire, immune to electrical attacks.
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L, 80’ long, 30’ wide at the shell
Psionic Ability: Nil

Far from even the dim and guttering flare of enlightenment cast across the Flanaess by the City of Greyhawk, beyond the hidden domain of the Scarlet Brothers, deep within the unmapped expanse of the endless, tangled jungles of unknown Hepmonaland, ancient horrors which would chill the blood of the most hardened slayers glither beneath the steaming emerald canopy.

Those who would venture there do so on the strength of tavern tales and rumors, for little is truly known of such distant places, so far removed from civilized lands.

One such tale fragment comes to us by way of the broken journal of Tilidus the Untoward, procurer of obscurities and late of Rel Astra. During his expedition in search of the nacreous Pearled Falcon, he struck deep into mysterious Hepmonaland.

An entry in that journal, salvaged from the sea, reads in part;

“The sound came upon the evening of the 34th day of the trek into the jungle. We had begun to set up the encampment for the night and gather fuel for the watch fires. From out of the darkness came a long, wailing whistle-like noise followed by four wetly metallic percussions of notable volume, though seemingly of some distance from our campsite.

The effect of this sound upon the savages was salutary. I have never seen such fear in men as was writ across their faces. They stopped in their tracks as though they had instantly become stone. When the sound was repeated a few moments later, they fled into the jungle shrieking, “Scachamma! Scachamma!”

Only the shaman, Guiligag, remained. The gnarled little man stood listening in the direction from which the sounds had come and fingering his bone wheel. After a short time he said to me, “It is across the river and moves north. We will not die tonight. Scachamma goes to pluck the Nahaup from the upland trees. They are sweeter than we.”

Nahaup is the name these people give to the creatures known to scholars as Su-monsters. That some creature might see such terrible beasts as easy prey amazed me. I asked him what manner of monster this Scachamma might be, and he replied thus.

“Scachamma is as a serpent, but also as is a snail. It carries its home with it when it goes to hunt. It is longer than the tallest tree. It is thicker than the river horse. No thing may fight it; all must run when Scachamma comes. The people throw monkeys into the river to keep Scachamma away. Most times it sleeps under the river. “

He leered at me with his sharp, filed teeth, “The men who are not taken by the jungle will return in the morning. We will speak no more of Scachamma. It may hear and come to see who speaks its name.”

I did not press the shaman further, though I wished to know more of this shelled serpent he claimed was the source of that strange and unoerthly call. I admit that I have begun to fear him and his primitive diablerie. I suspect that Guiligag has motives for aiding in my search for the pearled falcon which have nothing to do with those he has given.

What exactly the Scachamma is cannot be determined definitively from the information available. The monster is in general form serpentine and of gigantic size. Its features are somewhat more amphibian than reptilian. Though scaled, it is also covered in a heavy slime coat which protects it from fire. It also possesses an enormous calcareous shell similar in form to that of a sea snail.

Four whip like tentacles which may strike distances of up to 15 feet protrude from its head in pairs. One projects from either side of its glistening snout, and one each sprouts from above its bulbous orange eyes. Anyone struck by one of these tentacles must Save vs Poison or else take 1d6 damage from the viscous venom which drips from them. This venom causes intense pain and unless the victim saves successfully a second time, memory loss. For every point of damage caused by the venom, the victim will lose one day of memory. This can easily result in a magic-user losing all memorized spells, or other important information being lost.

Far more dangerous than its facial tentacles, however, is the monster’s Maw Vortex. Once every four rounds, the Scachamma can create a tremendous suction that functions as a sort of reverse breath weapon.

Creatures of man size or smaller within the area of effect, (equal in form and range to the breath weapon of an adult red dragon), will be literally sucked into the Scachamma’s mouth if they fail to Save vs Breath Weapon. In the following round they will be bitten for 4d6 points of damage, and in the round after that swallowed, dead or alive. Those swallowed alive may attempt to cut themselves free if devoured with weapon in hand. The creature’s powerful digestive acids will cause 1d8 points of damage per round.

The great weight of the creature’s massive body and that of its shell cause 1d8 points of crushing damage per round to any creature it might overrun. Though the Scachamma is slow, it does not tire. It will relentlessly pursue chosen victims so long as it does not lose sight of them.

Magical attacks employing cold will do full damage and also slow the monster’s movement by 50%.

The vast majority of its time; the creature spends asleep at the bottom of slow moving rivers, or in dark and wooded swamps. Only if disturbed or searching for food will it be encountered on the move.

The monster plays various roles unknowingly in the myths, stories, and religions of the inhabitants of Hepmonaland and parts of the Amedio peninsula. This may indicate that more than one such beast exists, or that the Scachamma is capable of crossing the Tilva Straits. As it has never been sighted at sea, it likely travels across the ocean bottom. The reactions of the indigenous peoples to those who inquire about or seek the Scachamma vary widely.

The Scachamma collects no treasure, though objects which are indigestible may remain within its gut. Some tales attribute magical properties to its shell. One of the small spikes or horns which project from it could bring great wealth if offered to the proper buyer.

• I think the Scachamma would easily fit into a Weird Tales or Sword & Planet type game with minimal modification. I generally run Wyrd Greyhawk as medievalesque-black folk tale, but it becomes steadily weirder the farther from the central flanaess adventurers travel. Hepmonaland becomes quite Lovecraftian and horror pulp.

* This monster was inspired by an entry at ShukerNature, the cryptozoology blog of Karl Shuker concerning the Sachamama, a weird beastie reported in Peru. The art is a redrawing of an image from a 16th century piece of Peruvian pottery depicting said beastie.

Here is the original post at Shuker's blog.

I'm an aficionado of all things Fortean, and that pursuit naturally provides more fodder for The Game. Dig it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nihilistic Motorcyclists! Who runs Bartertown? Chris Engle runs Bartertown!

One of my earliest posts on this blog concerned Nihlistic Motorcyclists, a game I've had in my collection since the mid 80's. Through the magic of Google, the creator of the game recently came across that very post here on OGGA and sent me an etheric-mail.
I was very pleased to hear from him, and he's given me permission to repost that missive here.
As follows;

I finally googled Nihilistic Motorcyclists and found your blog entry from last year. You are one of maybe twenty people who ever owned this game. Cool!

I the Chris Engle who wrote this dog so I can tell you what became of it and Angel games.

I sent out samples of NM to the distributors in 1986 and got a letter back from Richard Tulhoka (Bureau 13) who said he found a copy of the game at the bottom of a trash can and that the mothers of America would kill me for printing it. That made me think and then pull the game from the market. Only about 25 copies of the thousand I printed ever sold and I pulped all but a handful of the rest. I learned a useful lesson from that about not pandering to the taste of the lowest common denominator. Subsequently Angel Games ceased to exist. I went back to grad school and having been working in Mental Health since then.

My gaming interests didn't end though. In 1988 I invented Engle Matrix Games and started working on spreading that idea. Basically a game that could be run using words rather than numbers where players made up whole scenes and then rolled to see if they happened or not. Now we call that Indie Role Play Gaming but in 88 it was just weird and no one got it. I persisted though and am now happy that my ideas are so old hat. I started Hamster Press in 1995 and have had a booth at Gen Con since a year after it moved to Indianapolis. I do my own production so I can afford to put out all my games but I'm now working on how to move to selling in stores. My story games are about murder mysteries, Cthulhu horror, spy, and dungeon crawls. All very tame and main stream.

When it comes to NM I am amazed at how well the scenario and flow of play hold up. It still works today. I haven't run a game of it in over twenty years (It really is too sick) but I don't see anything now that would say it couldn't still work and creep people out. For all the sick and twisted games that have come out since then I haven't heard of one that made people act as badly as NM does. It is a pure game - it is a behavior mod token system for heinous crime on helpless victims. I learned from this that players do what they are rewarded to do so after that I reward good behavior. With NM I stared into the void and it stared back at me. That was enough for me.

Oh and I learned that you NEED to proof read. I misspelled "police" for god's sake!

Chris Engle

BTW Now I live down outside Bloomington and work at IU. A group of us get together once a month and play Euro Games at the Union. Stop by my booth at Gen Con and say hi.

Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games

He's exactly right when he says there aren't any other games out there that so promote heinous actions on the part of the players. It's really astounding, the depths to which players will sink when there is an actual in-game rules reward system for committing atrocities.

The game does play fast and smoothly. It's in the category of rpgs referred to as "beer & pretzels games" today. It's probably more of a "whiskey and human ears" game in play though.

Nihilistic Motorcyclists did have a valuable lesson to teach, in an oblique manner. I like to think that I'm a nice guy, over all. I am introspective and contemplative by nature, and after playing this game a few times, I sort of felt bad about myself.
It's just an RPG, and I'm not of the camp that promotes the idea that RPGs are about self exploration. But I have to admit that Nihilistic Motorcyclists forced me to admit to myself that I'm capable of at least theoretically conceiving acts of no small evil.

No shocker there, today. But, as a teen we're all still learning what it means to be a human being, and when you realize you yourself have as much potential for evil as the next guy, it can be a bit disorienting.

I let chris know that I did gain something from the experience of playing Nihilistic Motorcyclists, expanded insight. This sure isn't a game to play with your kids though. It probably shouldn't be played by anyone actually. At least not by anyone with "issues" it might aggravate.

If you excised the Victory Points system, it would make the core of a nice bare bones post apocalyptic game.

When I asked Chris if I could use his email in a follow up post, he replied thus;

Sure you can. Please stress that after I realized what the game did I pulled if from the market. It just brings out the worst in people but in both our cases is seems to have steared us towards good.

I know its wrong but I can't help but feel a little pride that I wrote a game that remains more out there than anything that has followed. It was a very pure design (commit crimes for victory points - though at the cost of looking crazier and crazier) which is why it was so far out. Kind of "Kill Puppies for Satan" like. I'm glad I started using my powers for good (as the super heroes say).

Chris Engle

PS: If you come to Gen Con look for the booth with all the stuffied animals and dragons at. We pay the bills with plush.

I want to say thanks to Chris for letting me use his replies here on the bliggety-blog, and for creating that horrible,horrible game in the first place.
Nihilistic Motorcyclists has a place in RPG history now. A dark,scary place.

It also strikes me as hilarious that plushies are a part of Chris's business now. Maybe some commemorative Nihilistic Plushies could spice up the booth?
Who wouldn't want a nice fuzzy Toe-Cutter to take home from the con?

Clicking on the Nihilistic Motorcyclists tag in the Old Guard Guide sidebar will bring up the original post on the game from feb-09.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Can I play with madness? dabbling in skill systems.

* Edit-
The above image was originally 7th son of a 7th son, an interior illustration from Iron Maiden's 1988 album of the same name. I suppose Photobucket took it down in keeping with their vague,arbitrary enforcement of their terms of service. I'm leaving the censored version up as a tribute to their sniveling obeisance to the dictates of the feckless,dying record industry.

The existence of a skill system in a game, and the willingness to use it, or not, is one of those points which is always a bone of contention in those discussions of, “Is this Old School, or not?”

I got on the D&D roadshow at the Holmes edition, which included the Thief class and its thieving skills matrix, so I’ve never been totally opposed to the idea of skill systems. At least in theory, that is. It’s that gap that exists between the theory of what a skill system can contribute to the game, and the facts of what it actually does in play, that prevents me from employing a fully fleshed skill system in my own game.

Skill systems were added to D&D, and made the heart of later RPGs, with the idea that they would expand the possible actions available to PCs. The perception was that actions not quantified by the rules as written were therefore not possible in the game, and the way to correct this was to add to the rules base.

I think this comes from an assumption that anything not expressly permitted, is forbidden. I have an unsubstantiated gut feeling that, in general, the proportion of the populace which thinks in this manner has been increasing for a long time now. I prefer the opposite mode of thought, that everything not expressly forbidden is permitted. And, you’d better have a really good reason for attempting to forbid me anything.

Anyway, what I’ve seen in games with a heavy reliance on skill systems is that rather than expanding the portfolio of actions available to characters, they actually reduce them. The existence of the skill system encourages an attitude towards viewing your character sheet as an armory or magazine of possible action choices. It is so, partially, but the problem arises when it also is seen as a list of the only actions possible. This is the point where players are in danger of falling into the trap of thinking that, “If it’s not on my character sheet, I can’t do it.”

The general attitude of the Old Guard towards this perception is very well summed up in this quote from a thread on RPGNet by Mike “Old Geezer” Mornard.

Probably the most extreme case is a TETSNBN player wondering how to tie somebody up in my OD&D game because there was no “Use Rope” skill. I mean, Crom, “Use Rope”? What’s next, a “Tie Boots” skill? “Eat Food?” “Take Dump?”

That guy kills me.

First generation skill-less RPGs, by not instituting a frame work of defined skills, leave open the greater possibility of character action. Players of the mindset that requires a defined rule structure are uncomfortable with the rules looseness of Old Guard play. They want things spelled out on their character sheet, and they want a rules coded menu of action options.

I think this is fine, in a beginner level RPG experience, but it’s not the sort of Advanced D&D I like.

Don’t take that as an insult if you are in favor of skill systems, I’m not trying to pull your beard. What I’m saying is that skill systems are fine for what they actually do. And that is providing a structure for players and GMs to use in place of their own judgment. What they don’t actually do is increase the possibilities open to players. In cases where the participants are young and inexperienced, in life as well as in RPGs, skill systems provide a structure and framework which fills in for a lack of the knowledge and experience that’s required to feel comfortable with playing and DMing by fiat.

In a situation where a PC wants to attempt something about which you, the DM, knows nothing of in real life, having a skill system handy provides a guide line you can use to navigate that gap. This is a great help to starter gamers, training wheels if you will. The drawback is that if you have no fear of relying upon your own knowledge and judgment, a skill system becomes a hindrance and an encumbrance, eliminating possibilities and making the game less than it could be.

I will, of course, readily admit that I am somewhat grognardly in my attitude towards the precepts of contemporary gaming culture. I don’t agree that more is better, or that a system must be rigidly interlocking or else be seen as “broken”. I like to think that I’m genial in my disregard for modern gaming though. I don’t go out of my way to attack those who see things differently. The vast and inherent superiority of Old School games is self evident and requires no defense. Heh….

See above image for an illustration of what might be defined as, "somewhat grognardly".

I’ve never had any difficulty in making a judgment call, and sticking to it, in cases where a PC attempts something for which he has no rules defined success/failure mechanism. I consider the relevant factors and assign a probability, or a number to beat, and we go on from there. That’s all a skill system does anyway. I’m just more confident that I can take the relevant factors into account and make a decision on the fly that’s more closely applicable to the situation than a hard coded skill system could provide.

Now, it may be that I get away with this because I have players who have known me for a long time, and understand how I think. They know that if I employ Dungeon Master’s Fiat, it’s principled and reasoned and never arbitrary. I make a note of it when I have to fill in the gaps of the rules as written for expediency’s sake, and this becomes like referring to prior case law when similar situations arise later. I don’t allow the rules, or the lack of them to bog a game down. I encourage and expect “outside the dungeon” thinking from players. Some of the most exciting and entertaining gaming results from forcing PCs out of their comfort zones and into situations that require them to attempt actions for which their character class is totally maladapted, in circumstances most dire.

Skill systems tend to retard the willingness of players who are used to them to attempt actions which they do not specialize in, or have some rules established ability to perform. This is why I don’t, as a general rule, use them. I want players to surprise me with deeds of daring do and outlandish solutions to problems. With all the work that goes into DMing I expect a challenge and some entertainment at my end of the table too.

I do like the idea behind skill systems though, the thing that skill systems are meant to do, but don’t. That is, I think, to enhance the depth of the PC by adding layers of potential abilities.

I do this by breaking “skills” into three categories and administering them in an open ended manner.

Natural Talents, this is a list of traits, abilities, aptitudes, quirks, flaws, etc, which the PC was born with. This is always rolled randomly, no exceptions. The class of the character is of no matter and has no bearing on which Natural Talents he may be born with. I leave it to player choice if they want to roll on the Natural Talents list. Some, of course, have definite ideas about the sort of character they want to create and play and don’t want to chance the random results of the list. Others are happy to let chance have a say in character creation and interested in the challenge of running a possible oddball. There are no character building points involved, this is not a system which can be worked to PC advantage. These things are simply meant to add texture and depth to the PC. Some are advantageous, some are drawbacks, and some are normally neutral.

Learned Skills, This includes trade skills, political skills, folk ways, woods lore, etc, skills which the PC learned as a child or was taught prior to becoming a classed adventurer. I assign no rules mechanism to Learned Skills and administer them in an open-ended and common sense fashion. If a player wants his character to have been the son of a fisherman, we’ll have a discussion about just what Learned Skills the PC is entitled too. (What sort of fishing, where, with what equipment, etc,). I’ll write up a brief outline to add to the character sheet regarding the implications for the character’s abilities in-game, and that’s that. If a player wants to perform an action based on his Learned Skill list that I haven’t previously OK’d, he’s going to have to make a convincing argument for it, and quickly.

Minor Class Abilities, This includes all the small things that come along with learning to be a fighter, or a cleric, or a magic-user, or a thief. Each class has its own unique list of Minor Class Abilities. These also may be altered depending upon the character’s background history.

I do allow the possibility of PCs teaching other PCs Learned Skills and some Minor Class Abilities.

In cases where this is just about developing characterization, it’s only a matter of role playing it out. If the knowledge or skill gained may be used to affect the outcome of combat or other situations where the dice normally come into play, then learning the skill will require the PC to expend experience points. I don’t make this cheap, so the player’s got to really want it to make it worthwhile.

I’ll post the text of these categories when I get it transferred from notebooks to Word.

In other news, I barely avoided getting a ticket today for having an expired plate. I had no idea the thing was out of date, the BMV sent me no notice that it was about to expire. This is the second time this has happened to me, but I did have to pay a ticket last time. I really hate it when one branch of government screws up, and another branch punishes me for it. I won’t miss the BMV when the revolution comes.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Be not slovenly in the Art, lad. Lest ye call forth the Catarrhapillar!


Frequency: Extremely rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 4
Move: 6”, (60 feet per round)
Hit Dice: 6
% in lair: nil
Treasure Type: Special
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 1d6+2, (bite)
Special Attacks: Mewling causes fear
Special Defenses: Catarrhal miasma
Magic Resistance: 40%
Intelligence: Animal-Low
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Size: L, (8 feet long, 300 lbs)
Psionic Ability: nil

When an attempt to summon and bind an infernal being of whatever sort fails badly, there is a chance, the magnitude of which depends upon various factors, that the imperfect summoning will call forth a Catarrhapillar, rather than the intended target.

This unfortunate happenstance is one reason among many for the mania would be diabolists have for attention to detail in their work, and with good reason.
A catarrhapillar, (or the catarrhapillar, it is unknown if the creature is singular, or of a kind), appears as a gigantic, demonic caterpillar-like beast. It has a broad, but shallow mouth filled with sharkish teeth, a single great baleful eye, and small horns or like protrusions upon its head.

The creature moves slowly, but with power. The rolling crepuscular undulation of its log thick body of fiendish muscle gives it strength equal to that of a stone giant when it comes to dealing with doors or other obstructions.

At all times the creature is enshrouded within a vile atmospheric exudation which it emits from its body. This is the catarrhal miasma. Any creature which comes within 1”, (10 feet), of the catarrhapillar must Save VS Poison or else suffer its effects. The miasma causes severe inflammation of the lungs and sinuses, as well as burning of the eyes and racking coughs. The weakness and heaving spasms effectively reduce the victim’s movement rate by 50% until he has been clear of the catarrhal miasma for 10 rounds.

In addition, the, (or a), catarrhapillar constantly emits the mewling. The mewling is a cry which sounds as though it were coming from a fearful infant calling for its mother, or the cries of abandoned kittens. All who hear the mewling and witness its actual source must Save VS Magic or feel Fear as per the spell.

Once brought to the prime material plane, a catarrhapillar has no goal other than to devour its summoner. It will ignore all other threats unless they come between it and its target. The creature is untiring and unrelenting. It will pursue its summoner without pause regardless of distance or obstacles. Even should a summoner remove himself from the catarrhapillar’s presence by teleportation or dimension door or other such magic, the monster will still sense the caster’s direction and distance and pursue at its best speed.

A catarrhapillar cannot be held or charmed or controlled in any way.

A catarrhapillar has no treasure as such, but may contain within its guts items or artifacts belonging to previous victims.

I've been slow to post lately. It's because allergies make me stupid. I'm outside alot, and once I suck in that late summer pollen, I get dumber and dumber as the day goes on. I just can't seem to focus well enough to string words together.
If I take enough antihistamines to clear my head, I get that weird detached feeling of watching everything through camera eyes instead. I'm sure everybody at work thinks I'm high. Ah,well.

The pic is a clip from an Adams family cartoon. That thing creeping down the stairs just stuck in my imagination.

I wanted some sort of low level, but terrifying demonic creature. The idea with the catarrhapillar is have something that will evoke that fear of relentless pursuit you get in those dreams where you fall down a lot while being slowly chased by something horrible.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wood smoke smells like Dungeons & Dragons to me.

I was building a fire last week to do some back yard cooking, and as I was poking up the coals, the smell of the smoke brought back to mind a certain experience of D&D.
They say that sense memories associated with smell are the most powerful and long lasting. So, I thought I'd ask you guys what sort of things have associations with gaming in your minds. What triggers memories, or gaming related thoughts for you?

The reason that wood smoke makes me think of gaming is that we played alot of D&D at summer camp in Boy Scouts. Yeah, I was a scout. It was some of the most enjoyable time in my life. There isn't anywhere that I'm more at ease than in the woods. Science Fiction conventions and Renn faires are close though. Heh...

I know scouting is quite unfashionable and un-PC now. Anytime I run into a discussion of it online, it takes an awful bashing. That all goes right over my head I'm afraid. My experience of scouting has no connection to what everyone wants to attack it for today. Like my view of old guard gaming vs the popular view of same I suppose.
Anyway, at camp we had those big canvas wall tents with the wood frames that open at each end. What we did was set up our tents in a five pointed star shape, with the inside corners touching, and then cover the open center with a big dining fly. We supported the center like a big top with a pole cut on site. This gave us a very big indoor space for gaming.

Now I never experienced any flack for playing D&D as a kid. Our scoutmaster didn't care a whit. We may not have been your average scout troop though. At least, what we did as scouts doesn't seem to have much in common with what the internet thinks scouts do.

We dragged a stereo and several car batteries with us so we could blast AC/DC and Black Sabbath in camp. We brought coolers loaded with Cokes, candy bars and chips to sell to the other troops at usurious rates. Black Elk speaks, Tom Brown's woodscraft books and the teachings of Don Juan were passed around at night and were just as esteemed as the DMG and the Scout field manual.

During the day we'd go tromping around in the woods and do scout stuff, and at night we'd game until we passed out. It was D&D camp as much as it was scout camp.
Hmmm, I bet I could get some takers for an adult D&D camp now. What would you guys think of two weeks with nothing but gaming and camp cooking without distractions?
That's a mostly rhetorical question. I can't swing the time myself. It's a nice idea though.

So, what apparently non-gaming related thing makes you think of gaming?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Swords of the Old Gods.

On a sea washed spit of barren stone, on the bleak northern face of the frost glazed Thillonrian Peninsula, Three gigantic swords, ancient and worn, uprightly pierce the shore rock and stand in silent, unknown vigil beside the grey ocean.

Far larger even than the weapons of the greatest giants, the hoary blades, tarnished and pitted by millennia, are known to few, and are less than dim legend to most. Fractured tales and tattered bits of folklore tell of many stories attached to the mighty war brands.

Ullsepas of Seulm, The tale-gatherer and diviner, may Zagyg forgive his prying, related this to the Lord Grenell, Herzog of the North Province, in a secret missive sent by courier eagle.

“As was claimed by the Kettite before he succumbed to the duress of inquiry, a triad of mighty swords, unoerthly in dimension, does indeed stand beside the bitter sea. Their design encompasses many of the elements of the most ancient sword patterns of the pale Suelish barbarians which infest this cold and dismal place, but no creature which walks this world have I seen which could wield blades such as these.

At my first attempt to divine somewhat of the nature of the swords, I was struck down as though I were but an overreaching novice, though all wise precaution had been taken. The Lore imp I had summoned to aid me was burned to ash instanter. I lay senseless upon the black stone for hours, my mind filled to agony with visions I could neither understand, nor retreat from.

I saw endless boreal wilderness. I saw monsters of legend, vast, iron horned, brazen scaled. I saw men at feast, at love, and at war, but not men as we know, greater, without limit. My senses filled with time and smoke and the calling of crows, and the sting of salt water. But over all boomed and rolled the dark laughter. Wild and unending, deep with mirth and madness, beyond the understanding of mortal men.

When at last the vision waned and I again commanded my own form, I stood and found I was no longer alone on that barren shore. Squatting on his long shanks atop a sea spattered boulder was an old man of appearance most dire and strange. Though the cruel wind froze the spray where it fell upon the rocky shore, he wore no clothing other than a rough kilt of seal leather. His fan-like beard and unkempt mane of hair were snowy white, but they did not hide the sky blue eyes, wicked and distant, he turned upon me.

“Are you of the Cruski?” I asked him.

He gestured towards the standing swords with a rune-scribed arm, if the markings were tattoos or scars I could not tell. He spoke in the common tongue, heavy with the accents of the north.

“You seek to know the swords, many-cloaks? There are tales upon tales that speak of the swords. Some of them are so.”

The nails of his long, knotted fingers were heavy and sharp, like the talons of the golden sea eagle.

“I will tell you one, southern bird.” He slid down from the boulder and stood upright, a full head and a half taller than I.

“You know of Kord, of Lerg, of Beltar, Lendor and Syrul, do you not, wizardling? Gods of the cold people, but not the first.”

He gestured past me, to the swords.

“There were others before them, older”. He pointed to the nearest of the towering blades.


His fingers twisted, they formed a runic symbol I did not recognize.

“The sword of Thoar.” He said, as an invocation. I observed that the runes wrapped around his arm in a continuous spiral from wrist to shoulder.

He pointed to the second sword. “The sword of Vor.”

He looked at me for a moment as his arm slowly arched to the last of the swords. “The sword of Uld.”

“These are forgotten gods? Gods no longer worshiped?” I asked of him.

“What is worship to the Gods? “ He responded. “Gods have no need of worship. It is for men who crave favor of the Gods, as the lowly wolf rolls on his back and bares his belly to the greater.”

He looked at me for five slow breaths with an expression of deep consideration on his face.

“The Three have been gone from here since long before the restless ones sailed south, to empire and decadence. Some say that they were driven out by their children, the young gods. Some say that they have gone to search between the stars for their stolen wives. Or that they have gone avyking against the gods of other worlds. Some say their swords were driven into the stone to mark their defeat and banishment. Some say they stand in remembrance of a great victory. Some say the Three themselves did thrust the swords into the oerth, to mark the way for their return. So that they would not forget from where they had come, or the wergild that was owed them.”

As he spoke, I watched as the blue of his eyes washed outward over the whites, until, save for the pit black pupils, his eyes were blue entire.

“Some of what is said is so. Some is so, but not so. It has been so long that even the truth has been worn by time.”

I will admit to you, Lord, that I felt fear and trepidation in the presence of the man. He smelt of wild and preternatural magic, and no little of it. If there was not madness in his glacial eyes, there was at least contempt of sanity.

Even as he spoke, I had begun a spell to hold him, so that I might more easily put him to the question and thus gain answers more clear in their meaning. He knew what I meant to do, I think, even before I began the binding. My power and skill in the Art is not small, as you well know, but I think he had but toyed with me from the beginning of our encounter.

He stooped suddenly, and with the nails of his bare hand, he slashed into the very rock beneath our feet, a rune of unknown meaning.

“Story time has ended little bird. Fly away now, before the ice takes your wings!”

In that moment before the completion of my own spell, I was suddenly seized by unseen talons and born up and into the sky. I felt mighty wings sweep the air above me, though I could see nothing of the creature which carried me. I believe that somehow the old man had called one of the tremendous eagles of the etheric plane to do his bidding and remove me from his domain.

The eagle carried me for many leagues before I was able to work my hands free of its grip and dispel the magic which had summoned it to this plane. I faced great difficulty in making my way alone through the hostile wilderness. It was some few weeks before I found a city worthy of representing civilization.

I consider now that our compact is dissolved. I will not again dare that uncaring land or face the inexplicable sorcery of the white-haired man. Not unless sufficient recompense and formidable allies be made available to me. If you would have further attempts made in this regard, send to me the Knight of Tatters and his winsome fey vassal, along with Slyr the Sharper and brother Fastandus and also thrice the coin formerly agreed upon.

Though the true nature and history of the Three Swords is uncertain and left to the Dungeon Master to determine, and to alter to fit his own campaign, some facts can be established.

The Swords create a powerful Magical Alteration Zone extending for approximately one mile in all directions, including to seaward, and also below ground level, and above into the sky.

The effects of the zone change according to the seasons in a steady pattern throughout the year. The Dungeon Master is free to assign alteration effects and months as he sees fit. (See the link in the Old Guard Guide sidebar to find the original post concerning Magical Alteration Zones.)

In addition, Wyrd Greyhawk’s version, The Swords of the Old Gods, presents the possibility that any characters coming within visual range of the ancient blades may chance Atavistic Possession.

The primal, elemental nature of the power of the Swords may magnify the inner nature of the player characters. As a characters choice of Class reflects who they are as a person, the PC’s class characteristics and stereotypical behaviors will become exaggerated and dangerously unbalanced.

When first sighting the Swords of the Old Gods, Player Characters must Save VS Magic, taking into account their individual Magical Attack Adjustment bonuses or penalties derived from their Wisdom Scores. Those who fail to save have fallen beneath the influence of the Swords.

A fighter may become a Shield-Biter. In this case, he always resorts to violence first to solve any problem. He gains +1 to hit and damage. He acts without regard for his own safety or that of his companions. He may continue to fight to -10 hit points. He also has a 15% chance of going battle mad in any combat which lasts more than six rounds. This is analogous to berserker rage and the shield-biter will attack all present until slain or subdued.

A thief may become a Magpie. Such a thief steals compulsively and without digression from friend and foe alike. A magpie becomes obsessed with anything denied him, a treasure item, a bottle of wine, a girl, etc. All thieves’ skills are boosted by 25%. Practicing the art of thievery becomes the be-all of a thief in the throes of atavistic possession.

A cleric may become a Godsman. In every situation requiring even the simplest and most inconsequential decision, the cleric will require time for theological reflection, to ensure that his actions do not conflict with dogma. A godsman casts spells at two levels higher than his actual experience level. He will also attempt to convert others to the worship of his god or gods at every occasion.

A magic-user may become an Eldritch Seer. He then perceives directly the lines and flows of arcane energy about him at all times. This results in a constant Detect Magic ability which never ceases. The magic-user casts spells as though two levels of experience higher than his actual level. He insists on using magic for even the most mundane tasks. He develops a disregard for all things not related directly to magic, and an obsessive need to possess any magical item he encounters. There is a 15% chance that some form of madness, chosen randomly from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, may strike the magic-user for every day that he remains in this state.

Once a character has fallen beneath the influence of the Swords, the Dungeon Master may wish to pass the player a note explaining the behavior changes he must portray. As with cases of PCs controlled by spell or monsters, the other members of the party who remain unaffected will have to figure out what has occurred and how to deal with it on their own.

Once affected by the power of the Swords, characters will remain so until they move outside of the area of effect of the Swords magical alteration zone. At this point they are allowed to attempt to Save VS Magic a second time. If they fail this second attempt, they will remain subject to the Atavistic Possession until such time as a Remove Curse spell may be bestowed upon them.

It should be noted that the atavistic possession bestows a sense of great freedom from social constraints and a feeling of clarity of purpose which is most gratifying. Those characters which are under its effects are unlikely to be co-operative with anyone seeking to return them to normal.

*The pics are of a Norwegian monument commemorating the battle of Hafrsfjord in 872. I bumbled into them whilst tooling about the internet and found them inspiring. Dig it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Three Griffons, to kill your players.

The Black Griffon of the Drachensgrabs.

Frequency: Unique
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 1
Move: 12”/330”, (120 feet per round on foot/330 feet per round in the air)
Hit Dice: 14, (112 hit points)
% in lair: 25%
Treasure Type: Special
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 2-16/2-16/2-20
Special Attacks: Scream of Battle, three times per day, the griffon’s scream will force all who hear it to Save VS Breath Weapon or immediately fumble their next action in fear.
Special Defenses: The griffon’s wings make no sound, it’s passage will not be noted if the creature is not seen.
Magic Resistance: 50%
Intelligence: Uncertain, accounts vary.
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Size: L
Psionic ability: Nil

Said to be more than twice the size of other known griffons, the great Black Griffon of the Drachensgrab Mountains is held by many to be a harbinger of disaster, its appearance an omen of coming events both terrible and important.

One week prior to the battle of Splintered Oaks, the Black Griffon was reported to have dropped without warning from a clear blue sky to slay and devour the favored war horse of Glewning, Duke of Dweryn. The death of Glewning, and the ruin of his House in the aftermath of his loss beneath the Splintered Oaks was later said to have been foreshadowed by the actions of the Black Griffon.

Some hold it was the griffon laid a curse upon Glewning and his kin by its actions, others that the beast was but an omen sent by the Fates, or Istus, like the dreaded Black Dog.

Some hold that it was merely chance, or perhaps an unfathomable jest of Zagig.

Many words have been spent beside late night watch fires in argument over the nature of the Black Griffon. Little of worth has been gained.

Certainly, the beast is a terrible opponent to face in combat. Upon this, all accounts do agree.
Even the most faithful of war horses will refuse to bear their riders within reach of the Black Griffon’s scythe-like talons.

Pladothemed the Infirm conjectures that the beast has a secret purpose. He has charted the sightings and the reported encounters with the Black, and believes that a pattern may be discerned in its movements. The Trembling wizard avows that the griffon wings forth to various places upon the Oerth in accordance to the arrival of certain dates of arcane relevance as noted in the common calendar of the Flaness.
The accuracy of Pladothemed’s theory is contested, however, as he refuses to reveal more.

Aclamng of Dyvers dismisses him as slovenly in his art, and as, “A senile fondler of Halflings!”

Tales concerning the Black Griffon are often contradictory regarding its behavior. Some have painted the creature as a benefactor of lost souls and a guardian of travelers, while others depict it as a remorseless killer with a cruel and malign humor. The truth may only be discovered by those who venture to seek the creature amongst the rocky spires of its home.

This of course, is no mean feat. The Black Griffon is said to nest in the shattered top of an ancient tower in the unknown heart of the Drachensgrab Mountains. Choked with orcs, goblin haunted, and infested with monsters little less formidable than the Black Griffon itself, only fools, the mad, and adventurers willingly dare the horrors of the Drachensgrabs.

Serpentine Griffon

Frequency: Very Rare
No. Appearing: 1-4
Armor Class: 3
Move: 10”/30”, (100 feet per round upon the ground/300 feet per round in the air)
Hit Dice: 8
% in Lair: 35%
Treasure Type:
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 1+1-6/1+1-6/1+1-10
Special Attacks: 50/50 chance for either; Spit venom to 100 feet, Save VS Poison or be paralyzed for 2d8 rounds, or, Constriction for 1d8 points of damage per round. Victim must successfully Bend Bars/Lift Gates to escape the griffon’s coils.
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Neutral, (Evil)
Size: L, (up to 30 feet in length)
Psionic Ability: Nil

A griffon of this sort possesses the body and tail of a giant serpent, rather than that of a lion, after its eagle’s head, taloned forelegs, and sweeping wings.

Less often encountered than their cousins of the leonine type, they are more likely to be found serving as mounts or guardians than as free wild creatures. A serpentine griffon is at best an untrustworthy servitor, however. It requires constant reminders of its master’s power and will or else it is likely to indulge its own appetites at any opportunity.

Serpentine griffons are more commonly encountered in warm or southern regions. The lair of a serpentine griffon, if it is of their own choosing, will be a location that allows ample sunlight for basking, preferably on rock. They do not seek the heights to nest as do other griffons.

A serpentine griffon left to its own devices is likely to act in a manner similar to that of a dragon. It will find a lair to its liking and then demand food and tribute of passersby and the local inhabitants of the area.


Frequency: Very Rare
No. Appearing: 2-8
Armor Class: 4
Move: 22”, (220 feet per round at a dead run)
Hit Dice: 4
% in Lair: 20%
Treasure Type: Incidental
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 2-8
Special Attacks: Stoop, if a griffhound has sufficient space to reach its top speed in attack, (50 yards required), its first attack will do double damage, and also topple the victim if they fail to roll below their Strength score.
Special Defenses: Never surprised
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: M
Psionic Ability: Nil

Lean and tawny hunters, Griffhounds combine the features of hawks and coursing dogs as griffons do with those of eagles and lions.
Wingless, but with the head and clawed forelegs of a huge golden hawk and the body and haunches of a great sight hound, griffhounds hunt open land in small packs.
Griffhounds may be encountered in areas of savanna, steppe, desert, or other open range or grassland.

The creatures habitually lair atop the highest point of land within their range of vision. This extends for miles due to the keen sight of their hawk eyes.

The tremendous speed and great stamina they possess enables them to run down most any creature they choose as prey. The pack normally hunts by chasing the prey until it begins to tire. Each griffhound then makes a pass at the prey, slashing or biting on their way by. They continue to attack in rotation without stopping until the target falls. Their superior speed leaves very little time for the prey to strike back before the griffhound is out of reach. (-2 to hit penalty to those attempting to defend against griffhounds which have room to employ their running attack)

Griffhounds are roughly equal in size to the largest normal wolves, and while they are unlikely to attack humans or humanoids unless desperate, trapped or very hungry, once combat has begun they are fearless and need never check morale.

Though it would seem likely that griffhounds were at some point creatures created by deliberate magic, they are quite successful in their role as predators of open land and behave as natural animals.

As the only sort of griffonish beast which may be truly trust worthy when taken as a pup and well trained, perhaps due to its canine half, it goes without saying that griffhound eggs will fetch a good price if offered to the correct buyer.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Magical Alteration Zones of Wyrd Greyhawk, & four new spells from the Weighty Tome.

Singular events of great moment, or the presence of objects of power or importance, magical, divine, infernal, or otherwise, leave impressions on the arcane aethosphere of Wyrd Oerth. Mighty works of magic, godly visitations or devilish intrusions, great conflicts or acts of infamy, leave behind them sumps, eddies, vortices, undertows, or other such disturbances in the normal ebb and flow of eldritch energies about the world.

These disturbances result in zones of magical alteration where normal spell casting is both dangerous and unpredictable. Any particular alteration zone will have a given % chance of causing a spell mishap to occur should an unwary magic-user attempt spell craft within its area of effect. This chance is determined by the Dungeon Master and should reflect the magnitude of the event which caused the aetheric impression originally.

If a spell is cast within an alteration zone, and a mishap is indicated, it may take several forms.

• A simple spell failure is possible. The spell’s energies are drawn into the disturbance with no effect.

• A spell alteration may take place. In some random fashion, the spell’s characteristics are altered. A fireball for example could manifest as a stream of flame that runs along the ground rather than a sphere which flies to its target. Alterations could potentially be helpful or a dangerous hindrance. The fire-stream in the above example could set other objects or persons alight as well as damage its intended target.

• An arcane wildfire could occur. In this case the spell runs out of control. It’s duration, range, area of effect, or power level could triple, quadruple, or the spell could become a permanent manifestation. In this last case, the spell is now drawing energy in a self sustaining manner from the currents about the arcane disturbance itself and has gone beyond the casters ability to end or control.

• A backfire may result. In this case the spell turns back upon the caster, delivering its full effect upon him.

• An unrelated magical manifestation accompanies the spell. A rainbow appears, sprites infest the casters beard, a wagon sized turd falls from the sky, etc. I employ parts of the 2E wild magic rules for this result.

• A spell-ghost occurs. This is not an undead spirit, but a re-manifestation of a spell which was cast previously within the alteration zone. The spell-ghost will take the form of a randomly determined spell which acts at one half of its standard strength. If the spell normally affects a target creature, the Dungeon Master must randomly determine who among the PCs and NPCs present the recipient of the magic is. If the random spell is one that increases in strength by level, the Dungeon Master must also determine the original casting level.

• A revelation strikes the spell caster. Previous or future events connected to the location of the alteration zone are revealed to the caster in an instantaneous vision. The caster is also stunned for 1d4 rounds.

• An arcane reverberation occurs. A wave of magical energy washes out from the locus of the alteration zone. This wave does no damage, but will be felt by all magic-using creatures within 1-100 miles, (2d10), of the disturbance. The reverberation will draw the attention of any such creature or person and may spur them to investigate its source. The reverberation will also be felt on both the astral and ethereal planes, as well as any other such plane which borders directly the prime material.

Famous magical alteration zones in Wyrd Greyhawk include, the Swords of the Old Gods, The Black Spiral of Ket, and the Mirror Water Pools. I intend to detail all of these in future posts.

When designating any particular space as a magical alteration zone, the Dungeon Master may roll 1d8 to choose the nature of potential mishaps, assign percentile chances to each possibility, or simply pre-choose which effect will be manifested in accordance with the circumstances of the zones origin.

If a magic-user is aware of the existence of a given magical alteration zone, he may cast spells normally within its area of effect if, before each attempt at casting, he successfully Saves VS Magic. Otherwise, a spell mishap is certain to occur.
Because of the danger presented by the existence of alteration zones, as well as the generally inconstant nature of magic in Wyrd Greyhawk, most masters include in their apprentices spell books a spell known as,

Discern Arcane Aethography

Level: 1
Range: Visual range of caster
Duration: 1 round
Area of Effect: N/A
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 3 rounds
Saving throw: N/A

If a magic-user has some indication or suspicion that the currents of magic are disturbed or unsettled in a given area due to past magic or other influences, the casting of Discern Arcane Aethography will reveal to him the nature of the disturbance and also what effect it may have upon his own spell casting.

As example, Sugraid the Spindly casts Discern Arcane Aethography upon encountering an ominous arch of living trees deep within the Old Forest. This reveals to him that spell casting here will result in an arcane reverberation unless he first Saves VS Spell successfully before each casting. As Sugraid has no wish to reveal his location or presence, he must refrain from magic-use within the alteration zones area of effect.

Magic-users with an Intelligence score of 16 or above who cast Discern Arcane Aethography prior to casting a second spell in areas outside of magical alteration zones will gather enough of a feel for the shape of magic in their immediate area that the following spell will act as though the magic-user were one level of experience higher than he actually is.

Remlap’s Arcane Inscriptor

Level: 3
Range: Centered directly upon caster
Duration: permanent
Area of Effect: up to a 10’ diameter circle, dependent upon available space.
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 6 rounds when pre-cast, 1 segment when activated.
Saving Throw: N/A

When activated, the Arcane Inscriptor instantly burns a magic circle, pentagram, thaumaturgic triangle, or other designated protective inscription into the surface the caster stands upon. Regardless of the nature of the surface, stone, wood, a grassy lawn, a lake, the chosen design will appear complete, unbroken, and legible. This inscription is permanent and may not be broken or erased.

The major portion of this spell is first cast in a secure location, with the magic-user drawing the desired protective inscription on the floor by hand. Then the spell is carried in the casters mind and only activated by the uttering of its final word.

The design created by the Arcane Inscriptor enhances the power of a single spell which is cast after its creation. The inscription created, and the spell enhanced by it must be related. A magic circle will enhance the spell, protection from evil, a pentagram will enhance summoning/binding spells, and a thaumaturgic triangle will enhance divinatory magic.

Specifics are left to the individual Dungeon master to tailor to their own taste.

Call forth the Guryms

Level: 2
Range: 20’
Duration: 1d6 rounds per level
Area of Effect: all within reach of the Guryms
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 round
Saving Throw: N/A

This spell when cast summons 1d4 of the Guryms per level of the caster. Creatures of the fey underworld, the Guryms are unaffected by other monster summoning spells or magic. Only this specific spell can call them to the prime material plane. The Guryms are completely and utterly uncontrollable. Immune to charm, hold, suggestion, paralysis, binding, or other such magic, they naturally possess an aura of free action and may not be physically bound, restrained, or contained. The caster will have no influence over the actions of the beastly little men. At the end of the given spell duration, the Guryms will fade back to their own dimension.

The Guryms appear as two and a half foot tall, extremely hairy men with disproportionately large heads, blazing blue eyes, and wide mouths filled with sharp teeth. They wear kilts or short pants but no other clothing.
When they appear, their actions are determined randomly. They may, attack all present, revel wildly, steal all things they lay hands on, eat anything ingestable, destroy all objects they can reach, or create art. Roll 1d8 to determine.

Guryms, AC: 4, Hit Dice: 2, Move: 140’ per round, Alignment: Chaotic, Special: unharmed by non-magical weapons, Those face slapped by a gurym will join them in whatever activity they are engaged in until they return to the fey underworld.

Clear the Air.

Level: 3
Range: 60’
Duration: 3 rounds
Area of Effect: Whatever enclosed space the caster occupies, or, 1000 cubic feet of outdoor space, per level
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 6 segments
Saving Throw: None

When this spell is cast, a stiff breeze of pure, cool air blows through the immediate area about the caster and instantly clears the air of smoke, smog, dust, spores, steam, gas or vapor and renders it clean and breathable.

The action of the spell also ends the effects of any magic which causes such atmospheric contamination, such as, stinking cloud, as well as shielding the caster from poison gas attacks such as green dragon breath.

The spell functions in a metaphoric sense as well. Clear the Air will also put an end to Charm and Suggestion or other such mind affecting magic. Recipients of the spell’s benefits may also feel a sense of clarity and inspiration. What may come of this is left to the Dungeon Master to decide.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Does anybody want to trade me for this White Wolf stuff?

I went through a period of voracious collecting of any and all rpg material looking to mine ideas. My trawling netted stuff that didn't really mesh with my own gaming leanings just because I thought I could maybe squeeze something useful out of it.

Now I'm sorting and eliminating things as what I like becomes more clear to me, so I thought I'd see if any of youse guys would like to trade. None of this is rare, but it's in very good shape. If I took the stack to half-price books, they'd give me 1.25 and a kick in the ass,so if anyone has anything they'd like to just trade straight up, send me an e-mail and let me know.

I don't know what shipping cost would be, but if the exchange is roughly even, I'll pay to ship to you if you pay to ship your stuff to me.

If you only want 1 book, that's fine also, you don't have to take them all if you don't need them.

A couple of these have a bit of price tag goo on the cover, but other than that, they're clean and undamaged.

I've got, a Get of Fenris clanbook, the Horizon sourcebook for Mage, the Book of Shadows for Mage, the Nosferatu clanbook for Vampire, the Werewolf Players Guide, a Vampire the Masquerade hardback, a Mage the Ascension hardback, and a second edition Werewolf the Apocalypse hardback.

I'd like to have stuff like, Fading Suns material, Kenzer's Aces&Eights, Alternity stuff, Knights of the Dinner Table comics,( I'll have to check and see which ones I'm missing), and of course, old TSR or new OSR materials. I've probably already got a copy of the TSR stuff, but you never know. Whatever you'd like to trade, let me know.

I'm not interested in making a profit or getting a deal on this stuff, I'm just looking for an exchange of roughly equal value.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Will the real OSR please stand up? Oh look, they all did.

Restoration, See above image.

This is the definition by which I navigate on matters concerning the Old School Renaissance.

In my mind, OSR is a term which describes new materials, games, rules, art, attitudes and philosophies towards role playing games which are derived from, consistent with, amenable too, or congenial with, those same elements of the original editions of the first generation of role playing games.

This is a broad definition, and each facet of it is subject to debate. That’s fine with me. One of my maxims is that, “All statements are generalizations,… generally.” When an apparent contradiction arises, it usually means I’m missing something, that I’m too close to the issue and I need to expand my focus to take in the bigger picture.

I think that the majority of conflicts, in all things, not only RPG discussions, are due to conflicting definitions. So, I try to be as forthright as I can be in sharing the meanings of the terms I use. Most especially here on the web, where 90% of the subtleties of interpersonal communication are stripped away and reduced to stark black and white lettering.

I don't think there is a single OSR. I think there is a multitude of overlapping personal OSR's, each sharing to a greater or lesser degree differing amounts of the various elements that are commonly perceived to make up Old School gaming. I don't think it's possible to sharply define what is and what isn't Old School, and I'm really only interested in general definitions anyway. I think it's porous, the borders are shifting and ill defined, and I like it like that.

At the dawn of role playing gaming, there were no limits. Rules were formulated and tested to see if they would provide the play experience the maker was seeking. There is a primal chaos at the naissance of any and all things which later grow and expand. Anything is possible at the beginning, but for there to be growth, choices have to be made and each choice made both provides structure, and eliminates possibilities. Order is required for growth, but too much order causes stagnation and death.

There have to be rules for The Game to be a game, and not just backyard make-believe, but as each later edition expanded the rules and further defined The Game, it also narrowed the range of possibilities at the same time. This is unavoidable, more rules means fewer real choices in the Game, just as bigger government means less liberty in real life.

The thing here is that there is a sweet spot on this sliding scale of imaginative chaos vs. rules order that I think of as Old Guard, or Old School if you like. Where exactly you see this sweet spot on the scale probably has a lot to do with your personal proclivities and also, at what point in rpg history you were introduced to the idea of role playing. For myself, it was the Holmes edition D&D, and immediately after, AD&D. That’s where I’m coming from.

Renaissance, See above image.

A renaissance is a re-birth, a second beginning, it is not a restoration.

I think a very great deal of the internal conflict, but not all, that I read is due to the confusion between the two terms. The camp that requires original rules purity is actually pursuing an Old School Restoration, rather than a renaissance. There is nothing wrong with this. This is the same attitude towards The Game that a classic car restorer has about returning a model T C-cab to original condition. It’s important for understanding and appreciation the history of the game to preserve attitudes, approaches and ephemera as well as the original rules themselves.
The conflict comes from a failure to recognize the different goals of the renaissance promoters and the restorationists.
This, I think, is the origin of the dogmatic absolutism that concerns some of our good fellow game bloggers. I myself don’t find the uber-grognards particularly troubling. Growing up in rural Indiana, I’ve had to deal with more than my share of obstinate, crusty old bastards and I just see them as part of the local color. I treat them like I do upper management, smile and nod and do what I’m going to do anyway.
I suppose the head-butting between the restoration and the renaissance is something like the disconnection between historical re-enactors and the Society for Creative Anachronism. Of course this is a generalization, don’t carp at me if you don’t like where you come down in this comparison. Heh…

Anyway, My Personal OSR is a renaissance and not a restoration. Full speed ahead! Damn the torpedos! I've got a bad feeling about this! It’s about reexamining the originals to figure out why I like them so damn much. It’s about rebuilding them in my own way. It’s about getting back to that root, that origin point, and examining, considering, and testing all the directions I can think of that The Game didn’t take the first time. And also in just creating materials that I enjoy that do work with the early editions as written. I see no contradiction in these approaches and I do them both concurrently. I appreciate that fully restored classic just as much as I appreciate all the work that goes into a modified hot rod roadster.

I get my kicks by exploring what it is that appeals to me about the old games, and building off of those elements to augment the experience of play. Testing the ideas, rules, approaches that others put forth, or are inspired by the experiments of others, to see what happens, and if I find them congenial to my game, lets me expand my horizons. If I don’t like where the experiment goes, that’s fine. I put the idea back on the shelf and start over. No harm done.

I love the OSR, or at least, I love my OSR. After a dozen or so years of thinking I was the last AD&D supporter on earth the online old game community has made it possible for me to blather on about My D&D to people who actually give a crap and to contribute what I can to the preservation and advancement of Old Guard Gaming. I love it because now I have the chance to contribute to The Game in a way that I couldn't back when it was created. I'd have given my left 20-sider to have been there at TSR at the beginning, but I missed that boat by a decade and it wasn't until I blundered into the online community that I had any chance of actually getting my game writing and ideas out there. It was this blog that brought me the chance to write for Rob Kuntz, which is of course, frikken awesome! My wife dosn't understand the girlish glee that brings me, but she's glad it makes me happy. It was the OSR that got me that chance. As an originator of The Game, Rob himself has no need of the OSR, but for myself, it was what reignited my fire for The Game and got me to actually start writing out all the stuff that clogs my head. The unembarassing stuff at least.

This is what I do. I can’t speak for anybody else and I’m not interested in doing so. I have enough NPCs to manage.

And that's all I've got to say about that.