Wednesday 29 October 2008

RPG Bloggers: Unite

I won't be posting much this week, as I'm leaving to start my new international jet-setter lifestyle tomorrow. But it's really about time I gave a big plug to Jonathan at The Core Mechanic, who for some time now has been singing from the rooftops about his 'Best of 2008' RPG Blog Anthology. I think it's a great idea, which might go some way to spreading the word to the RPG community at large, and ideally haul in lots more readers for everybody. (God knows why anybody would want to read the dreadful tripe I write, but hey, apparently some do.)

So go ye forth and nominate your favourite entries from other people's blogs. I haven't made one yet because I'm still trying to decide - and I don't want to spam-bomb the entire process with about 50 nominations. The deadline is December the 1st, though, so you still have time.

Monday 27 October 2008

The Rod of Seven Parts and Quintessential Campaigns

A while ago on, there was a thread about something.

Amazing, I know.

Anyway, whenever it was and whatever the thread was about, at some point somebody (who I think may have been Brian, of Trollsmyth fame), brought up the idea of a Quintessential Campaign for each edition of D&D. It would contain all that was best and all that was special about that particular iteration of the most popular rpg, and would span all the experience levels available.

Since the best thing about 2e was the settings, it was decided, the Quintessential 2e Campaign would involve an attempt to find and assemble each piece of the Rod of Seven Parts, with every segment found in a different campaign world. Thus the first might be found somewhere in Greyhawk, the second in Waterdeep, the third in Zakhara, the fourth in Oerth, the fifth in Krynn (shudder) and so on. Once the rod had been assembled there would be some kind of final mission, preferably involving spelljammer ships and the outer planes.

I thought that was a capital idea, even if I disagree that the best thing about 2e was the settings. (They were one of the great things about it, but not the best thing.) It quickly became one of those Campaigns That Must Be Run in my mind, but the sheer epic scale of the thing is pretty galling and eventually I put it to the back of my mind and forgot about it.

Well, it resurfaced yesterday while I was flipping through a pdf of an Al Qadim sourcebook. God, 2e had some great settings. As a general rule I'm the type of person who wants to create their own worlds than play in somebody else's sandbox, but who can resist the magic and mystery of an Al Qadim, a Dark Sun, or a Spelljammer? (Let's forget about Dragonlance for a moment.) The sheer force and potency of creativity in those settings is heady stuff, and the creators are never given enough credit.

I doubt I'll ever have time to run the Grand Rod of Seven Parts Campaign, much less the interested players. It's another one for the grimoire, I suppose. But that doesn't stop me thinking about it.

I'd start with Al Qadim, and Zakhari characters. The contrariness of that, rather than going for Greyhawk, or Forgotten Realms, or Dragonlance, has a certain appeal. The campaign would have to encompass Dark Sun, of course, preferably when the PCs were at a lower level - seeing how they dealt with the sheer meanness of the place would be an interesting adventure in and of itself. Then the action could swing through Oerth and Ravenloft, before progressing to Greyhawk and then, to the phlogiston, and the Abyss... Ah, the possibilities, unable to be realised. Life is so unfair sometimes.

Sunday 26 October 2008

Inspirational Pictures (II)

Some more photos to spark the imagination.

Scenery surrounding the site of the massacre at Glen Coe. (I have a special interest in that event, as it was some of my ancestors who perpetrated it.) The view just screams Tolkienesque fantasy to me - empty, barren and wild.

The Standing Stones of Stenness in the Orkney Isles. Clearly a portal to another world.

A scene from Matsushima in North-Eastern Japan, near my wife's home town. Who are those people in that boat, and what are they doing? Are they smugglers? Assassins disposing of a body? Wanted men looking for somewhere to hide?

Friday 24 October 2008

The Fight Fantasy Cover Monster Bestiary (III)

An occasional series which stats-out and re-imagines the creatures found on Fighting Fantasy book covers.

Gehurt the Green

In a rickety old mansion deep in the woods outside Tannenberg lives Gehurt the Green, so named for his unusual sea green skin. Nobody knows where he gained this strange affliction, though the most common rumour is that he was cursed by the Gods for his foul congress with the many beasts of the forest. Most of the stories surrounding him regard alleged sexual deviancies, but they vary from village to village and it is impossible to know if they have any credence. That Gehurt has the role of a bogey man in the folklore of the Tannenberg villages - "Eat your oats, or Gehurt the Green will come and eat them for you!" - has served to shroud the reality in even greater mystery.

Gehurt is almost never seen. He is an expert at camouflage, and when he is out wandering in the forests he blends almost perfectly with his surroundings. He can move as silently as a halfling and as smoothly as an elf, and he uses these abilities to steal up on his victims from out of the shadows. His favourite targets are small children out wandering or playing in the woods, but he will attack anybody or anything to assuage his bloodthirst.

He is often accompanied by two allies - malignant and nameless spirits from the darkest and most ancient parts of the forest. These spirits have the ability to possess trees and other plant life, which they can then manipulate to attack their enemies.

Gehurt the Green

Gehurt has all the standard abilities and statistics of a Vampire. In addition, when in woodland areas he has a 95% chance of being undetectable by sight or sound. He loses this advantage once he makes an attack.

Nameless Spirits

The Nameless Spirits have the standard abilities and statistics of a Spectre. In addition, they have the ability to possess a tree. This process takes one round, and occurs automatically without the need for a dice roll. Once it has been achieved, the Nameless Spirit can animate its host, controlling it from within. This gives it the combat statistics of the least powerful form of Treant. The spirit can only be driven out of its host by a dispel magic spell, or by combat - reducing the host to 10% of its hit points. Either of these events causes the Nameless Spirit 50% damage, and it cannot possess another tree for 1 turn.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Extracts from my Game Idea Grimoire

Random selections from noisms' Great Book of Game Ideas Which Will Never Take Off:

Catalogue 34c, book III, chapter 87, subsection IX, no. 679: A style game based on the Harlan Ellison short story I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. Four to six players are trapped inside a planet sized Artifical Intelligence whose only motivation is its pitiless hatred of them. Over the course of the campaign they are tortured and brutalised in ever more inventive ways, the only stipulation being that AM (the AI) cannot allow them to die. There is no GM - the players each take turns 'being' AM, with the challenge being to trump the previous guy.

Catalogue 11a, book LXII, chapter 18, subsection XXV, no. 81: A Cyberpunk 2020 game set in Equatorial Guinea, where vast oil resources are the focus for clandestine warfare between megacorporations, the government, other African governments, power-crazed mercenary bosses turned warlords, and shining path style maoist rebels. Like the Wild West except on the equator. In Africa. In the Jungle. With railguns.

Catalogue 42j, book X, chapter 119, subsection I, no. 70: A hybrid of Spelljammer and Star Trek: Voyager using Risus. A spelljammer ship becomes stranded hundreds of years away from home by some vagary in the phlogiston, surrounded by weird alien races and desparate for coffee. No Janeway, though.

Catalogue 87d, book V, chapter 1, subsection IIX, no. 6: A MERP game set in the early Third Age of Middle Earth. A group of adventurers set off from Rivendell into the East, in search of the 'blue wizards'. They encounter a corrupt magocracy in the vast, sparsely populated barren wastelands and mountains, and must fight an unrecognised and thankless battle against it in tandem with greater events back West.

Catalogue 14p, book I, chapter 73, subsection XXVII, no. 33: A Risus game set in the Mesopotamia of the Book of Judges, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and ancient Sumer. The players are demigods with stats like "Donkey-Jaw-Bone-Wielding Genocidaire 4" or "Shagger of Thousands of Other Men's Wives 2", and they battle against mountain-sized giants and other legendary monsters.

Catalogue 48x, book LI, chapter 9, subsection IV, no. 189: A campaign set in a mystical version of Kofun-era Japan. The players are a group of rational and well educated Chinese diplomats who are trying to find the Queen of Yamato's court, in an archipelago full of mountains, forests, barbaric tribesmen, dragons, oni, tengu and river ghosts.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Yak Folk

I never was a big fan of D&D 3.x. But there were some gems (well hidden) in and amongst its sourcebooks. Here's one, kitted out for use with BECMI:

Yak Folk

In the high plateaus of Bhauta live the Yak Folk, a race of nomadic slave-owners whose utter indifference to other forms of life is easily mistaken for malice. They move around their mountain realm in clan groups numbering in the several dozen, herding both their yaks (who they view as their children) and their humans (who are seen as equal in status to all non-yak animals). Twice a year - once in spring when the snows begin to thaw, and again in autumn before the heavy snowfalls - they perform elaborate rituals before setting off to raid the valleys and foothills for more slaves. Life as one of their chattels is brutally tough, but the Yak Folk are generally sensible enough not to allow their slaves to die unnecessarily.

Yak Folk adults stand considerably larger than a man (6-7' for a female, up to 8' for a male), and they are covered in shaggy black fur. They are extremely vain, and enjoy elaborate, decorous clothing, especially dyed in yellows, reds and purples, and they usually adorn their horns with expensive silk tassels and scarves. The materials for clothing are often stolen on slave raids, where the Yak Folk take great care to select only the very best and most expensive looking goods.

Yak Folk are equally powerful in magic and combat. In a fight they wield short, heavy scimitars and kukri knives, and can also gore with their horns (although they view this vulgarity as a last resort). They prefer illusory spells which confuse and befuddle their opposition, and often employ such tactics to subdue an enemy; opponents are usually worth more alive as slaves than they are dead.

Armour Class: 3
Hit Dice: 5
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 scimitar/1 horns or 2 kukri/1 horns
Damage: d8+4/d8+4/2d6 or d4+4/d4+4/2d6
No. App: 3d4 (raid), 6d6 (clan group)
Save As: Cleric 8
Morale: 10
Treasure Type: E
Intelligence: 14
Alignment: Chaotic

Special Abilities:

Each Yak Folk encountered also functions as a magic user (Wokan) of level 4, except for one of their number, who will be a level 6 Wokan.

Once per day, three Yak Folk can perform a ritual to call 2d4 Lesser Djinni to their aid. The ritual takes two rounds, during which the Yak Folk cannot be disturbed. Any summoned Djinni serve for the length of the combat before returning to the elemental plane of air.

Monday 20 October 2008

First Experiences

Let me tell you about the first time I played a fully fledged role playing game. (I had messed around with Advanced Fighting Fantasy a bit before that.)

It was the Red Box Basic D&D set, and I was about 11 or 12. My friend Adam's big brother had a copy of the game (secondhand all the same - I think he'd got hold of it at some bring-and-buy sale somewhere) and was keen on playing. As he didn't have many friends, we ended up being his guinea pigs, and agreed to roll up characters. We knew at least what that meant, because we'd already been playing Fighting Fantasy adventure game books for some years at that point.

My character was a halfling. I don't believe he had a name. For some reason I think I wrote 'Halfling Thief' on the character sheet, which must mean that at that stage we were unaccepting of the advanced concept of race-as-class. (One thing I've noticed about Classic D&D is that the wisdom and coolness of race-as-class is something you learn many years after you start playing; when you were a kid, you thought it was stupid and that the AD&D system made much more sense. Youth is wasted on the young.) The halfling thief was rather like Tasselhoff from the Dragonlance series in my mind; I have to admit I loved the original Dragonlance trilogy and borrowed it from the local library several times to re-read. My halfling thief had a topknot and was utterly fearless. He also had a DEX of 16 - that's the only stat that I can recall. (Funnily enough I can even recall that roll - the dice, face up on my friend's brother's desk, showing 6, 6, and 4.)

I believe Adam played a dwarf. There was also somebody else present, but I don't remember who they were or what character they had. Whoever it was died within the first ten minutes - more on that shortly. There were some NPCs too, to beef up the numbers: a wizard, another dwarf, and I think an elf. For some reason my friend's brother also decided to give us one magic item to help us on our way: a ring of invisibility.

We set off into a cave network and were immediately set upon by a carrion crawler. There ensued a furious melee in which the nameless, faceless stranger saw his character die with horrible speed. My halfling thief got in a solid blow with his handaxe, dealing the full 6 points of damage. A few rounds later and the carrion crawler was dead. Our first victory! We descended a stone staircase and entered a large chamber.

This large chamber was full of gold and other treasures. But before we could get our hands on it, we realised that at the far end there was a red dragon. Behind the monster was a tunnel - the obvious only way forward! But how to get to it?

The red dragon immediately noticed us, and warned us not to move any closer, nor further away, lest we be burned to a crisp. So we spent at least an hour (in my memory anyway - in reality it could have been as little as five minutes) in parley with the thing. Gradually we realised that we were at stalemate. We couldn't convince the dragon to let us past into the dungeon proper, but nor could we convince it to let us go back to the surface. And yet it wouldn't kill us, either.

Words can't express how frustrating the whole thing was. My friend's brother was a terrible DM. A few hours prior I hadn't even known what a DM was, and even I could tell. It was suddenly very clear. And yet what could we do? He was the only one with rulebooks and dice. So we gamely played along.

Finally I hit on an idea. I convinced the NPC dwarf to put on the ring of invisibility. He could then try to sneak around behind the dragon. My plan was that the dragon would notice (all dragons can detect invisibility, duh, don't you know anything?), burn the dwarf to a crisp, and in the meantime the rest of us would leg it. It seemed a capital idea.

The NPC dwarf gladly obliged. As planned, before he'd got half way towards the dragon, the monster had noticed him and was demanding for us to give him a reason why he shouldn't fry us to a crisp. I vividly remember offering the NPC dwarf up as an unwilling sacrifice, telling the dragon that he should go ahead and feast on the bugger because "Dwarf tastes of chicken", but my plea was ignored and sure enough we were fried to a crisp. My friend's brother made sure we rolled for saving throws, and then made a big show of calculating the damage from the dragon's breath - as if it mattered when my nameless halfing thief had 5 hit points. And so my first tryst with D&D ended.

There's a moral in there somewhere, I'm sure, although I don't know what. Looking back now I think it's a miracle I'm still at all interested in this hobby, but I suppose there's a lot to be said for the fact that it allowed me to pretend to be a halfling thief confronting a dragon. I know of no other hobby which can claim to allow somebody to do such imaginitive things, and I suppose that's what's kept me at it.

Man's Battle for the Stars

Thanks to the Godzilla Gaming Podcast, my new obsession is tracking down fans of 2300 AD. Any players of the game out there amongst my readership?

My other new obsession, ever since I wrote this post, is the War Machine (the mass battle rules) from the Companion set for Classic D&D. I'll be putting up a hack for the system some time soon.

In other news, the excellent Primer for Old School Gaming has been discovered by the good people over at I was more than a little surprised to see that thread, and even more surprised to see it get the thumbs up from most.

Saturday 18 October 2008

We're so evil!

There's a big fuss being kicked up about Geoffrey McKinney's new homebrew campaign setting for OD&D, the grandiosely titled 'Supplement V: Carcosa'. It has generated a lot of understandable outrage about its depictions of demon-summoning rituals (most of which seem to involve a level of sexual violence against children which would put Gary Glitter to shame), and a predictably vehement defense from some quarters to the effect that the violence is fictionalised, we should respect free speech, villains in the source literature do similar things, etc. etc.

This post isn't about that issue, directly. All my points have been made already, more eloquently, by other people, and you can and will make up your own minds. I should also say that I absolutely support the production of new 'old school' products and I'm glad the author has made the effort to put his creativity out in the public domain. I also think he's a very brave individual for risking the obvious backlash his publication would invite. However, I think that 'Supplement V' brings up some other worrying issues for the little niche of the RPG world we call 'old school gaming'.

My biggest concerns about 'Supplement V', rather than the infantile - and I use that word advisedly - reveling in blood and gore, are these. First, there is the near unforgivable hubris of its title, deliberately setting the supplement up as some sort of spiritual successor to the OD&D supplements. I find this distasteful. It's grandiloquent. It's putting oneself up on a pedestal. Frankly, it lacks class. More seriously, it panders to the notion that people who play older versions of D&D have to continually walk in the shadow of its creators. Again I'm forced to ask the question that I have before in this blog, numerous times: what's wrong with doing something new? Why does this have to be 'Supplement V', unable to stand on its own two feet as something novel?

Second, the continued use of paranoid shibboleths like "
Supplement V: CARCOSA is a book of rules options for the original fantasy role-playing game published in 1974" really gets my goat. It's a completely unnecessary rhetorical genuflection designed to avoid being sued by Wizards of the Coast for using the words 'Dungeons & Dragons' - something which has a likelihood of precisely nil. Wizards of the Coast do not own the words 'Dungeon', 'and', or 'Dragon'. They own trademarks of certain logos and sets of lettering which happen to have those words in them. The level of concern exhibited by some members of the 'old school' in this regard is completely misplaced.

Third, I have a broader anxiety about 'amoral' games, and I've noticed a tendency among various old school bloggers to over-egg that aspect of Original D&D to the point of absurdity. Yes, grave-robbing and theft of treasure in an amoral (or immoral) manner was a cornerstone of the game, and the fantasy genre, for many years. It's a trope, and happens to be a lot of fun. It's also a truism that D&D characters are almost never truly 'good' in any meaningful sense of the word, unless ones definition of 'good' includes unthinking slaughter. And the characters in the source literature which inspired/inspires D&D were never angels.

But there's a point at which behaving amorally in a game turns a corner into the vicarious acting out of urges - urges that are better left at the very bottom of the id. Murder, theft, and even matters like torture and rape (on the part of the villains) are not something that I would absolutely forbid from ever arising in my games. And the moral ambiguities associated with the
killing of 'evil' creatures are worthy of exploration. But there is nothing morally ambiguous about, for example, sexual abuse. I don't have any interest in exploring that as an outlet for the player-characters (villains are a different story), because it's an intrinsically negative, destructive and, dare I say soul destroying thing to do. Just as I gave up playing the original Grand Theft Auto because I realised it could have a numbing effect on my attitudes towards other people, so I don't wish to be involved in D&D play which involves something similar.

Friday 17 October 2008

Trends in Nerdish Pursuits - or, I wonder if Emily Short and Ron Edwards have ever met?

As well as playing RPGs, I sometimes like to dabble in the playing and writing of text adventures, or 'interactive fiction' as I believe the kids are calling it these days. The developmental paths of interactive fiction and RPGs are surprisingly similar, and it makes me wonder if we can't draw any half-baked and ill-thought out theories from this odd fact.

RPGs and IF, how similar hast thine development paths been? Let me count the ways:

A. RPGs and IF followed an exactly similar career trajectory - namely, they started off as the prevail of a small group of nerds, suddenly enjoyed a growth and boom period in which some of their most famous examples became household names, before finally coming up against the oncoming wave of console/video gaming and falling back from the universe in fear and confusion. Then they went back to being the prevail of a small group of nerds again.

B. RPGs and IF followed a broadly similar design trajectory - namely, they started off emulating simplistic 'fantasy fucking Vietnam' dungeon crawls, then gradually broadened their purview to include the more epic, the more personal, the more experimental, and the more unusual. This had the unforeseen consequence of splintering their fanbases into 'old' and 'new' and 'I like both' schoolers.

C. RPGs and IF followed a vaguely similar theory trajectory - namely, progressing from 'gamist' puzzle-orientated approaches to more 'narrativist' story-telling play. (God, how I loathe those terms, but they do get the point across.) This coincided with a mysterious name-change in both cases, from 'text adventure' to 'interactive fiction', and from 'role playing game' to 'story game'. (The cynic in me puts this down to people feeling ashamed about playing things called 'text adventures' and 'role playing games'.) It also coincided with a greater degree of player freedom and power, moving away from the GM is God/Designer is God starting point and ending up in a more airy-fairy world of non-linearity, narrative control, and 'plot'. (Compare Galatea with Zork, and the The Mountain Witch with Basic D&D.)

I wonder why this should have been the case. Do all nerd pursuits follow these paths? (Not that these trajectories were bad - I like both Galatea and The Mountain Witch.) Half-baked and ill-thought out theories on the back of a postcard. Or, alternatively, in the comments.

Thursday 16 October 2008

I am the Law

Among my many faults, I am something of a scholar of International Law. (At least, I'm working on a PhD entitled "A new conceptual framework for state-minority relations in the United Nations' human rights monitoring system" - which entitles me to call myself a 'scholar' but which also makes me a hugely pretentious ass.) So naturally enough, in my idle moments my thoughts sometimes drift towards the idea of legal systems being incorporated into fantasy role playing settings. Of course - and I know this to be true, with every bone in my body - such an idea cannot be anything but a recipe for disaster - because what player would ever want to have anything to do with such a setting? Who wants to worry about the law, when you're supposed to be having fun?

Nevertheless, I'm toying with the idea once again. Here are some unfocused ramblings regarding legal systems in fantasy rpg settings. Enjoy.

What interests me, as a legal theorist more than a practitioner, is how a legal system would develop in a typical bog-standard fantasy setting, in which elves, dwarves, humans, hobbits, half-orcs, giants and dragons intermingle in a haphazard way. What would govern the relations of the wildly different races? What self respecting dwarf would abide by judicial decisions made by an elf?

In Early Germanic Law, a similar problem (how to deal with the patchwork of wildly different cultures found through the Holy Roman Empire) was circumnavigated by treating every man in accordance with the laws of his own people. Even if a Frank and a Burgundian committed identical crimes, their treatment would vary according to their specific 'racial' law. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a similar system existing in a fantasy state in which elves, dwarves, humans and halflings lived side by side. What follows is a dreamt-up overview of a set of legal systems for a place called Sachsenpiegel, which I've just made up. It is an ordinary bog-standard fantasy kingdom in which the population is equally divided between humans, elves, dwarves and hobbits.

Human Law

Because humans are the least well educated of the four races in Sachsenspiegel and most of them are illiterate, their law is also the least codified and it relies heavily on custom and precedent. It is enforced by traveling judges, who move from town to town and village to village, hearing complaints and making decisions according to their own analysis, and according to precedent set in similar cases which they have heard about and memorised. They enforce their own decisions, and they are usually very powerful wizards or clerics who are strong enough to carry out required punishments, whatever form they take. Once a year every judge in Sachsenspiegel gets together at a great moot, where they exchange experiences, ideas and judgements.

Dwarf Law

Dwarfish Law is based on the concept of the 'Maegth' - everything is regulated by laws of kinship, and everyone within an extended clan is responsible for everybody else. If a member of a clan has committed a crime, all the members of his clan pay restitution and accept punishment. Likewise, if a crime is committed against a member of a clan, all the other members get together to demand (or enact) retribution. This system can result in very harmonious relations if clans are prepared to keep their members in line. But it can quickly spiral into tit-for-tat blood feuds spanning generations if justice is not perceived to have been done in a particular case.

Elven Law

Elven law consists of a set of simple guidelines for behaviour, based heavily on the concept of harmony. Because elves consider each other basically trustworthy and incapable of intentionally committing a crime, any transgression is viewed as having been accidental and repentance and forgiveness are expected on the part of the transgressor and victim respectively. Punishment is only enacted for refusal to repent or refusal to forgive; refusal to repent can result in anything from a fine to ostracism, whereas refusal to forgive generally results in milder sentences.

Hobbit Law

Hobbit Law is molded by the character of hobbits themselves. The little people like nothing better than poring over books, holding long and intricate discussions, and taking their time mulling over decisions. This makes hobbit law highly codified, extremely arcane, and almost inexplicable to outsiders. Trials typically last for months or even years except in the most clear cut cases, as the two parties, their representatives, and the judges argue the cases and discuss fine (extremely fine) details. Often the two parties (transgressor and victim) will compare notes and ideas very civilly over the existing statutes, precedents and records and what they all mean, and will reach a mutually acceptable decision together with the judges. Clouds of pipe smoke and the the thick smell of beer accompany almost all hobbit legal proceedings.

Interaction of the different systems

In the case of a crime in which the transgressor and victim are of different races, the guilty party is tried in accordance with their own law. This often results in problems, particularly in cases in which an elf 'accidentally' commits a crime against a human or dwarf - as people of those races are unlikely to accept the route of forgiveness.

Such cases are resolved by a council of eight legal elders - two from each of the races, appointed by their respective communities. Together they hash out decisions regarding inter-racial crimes, and generally speaking their decisions are abided by. In the case of further argument, both parties to a case have recourse to the king, whose decision is final.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Random Encounters with Military Units in a Feudal Japanese Setting

I was flicking through the mass battle guidelines in the Rules Cyclopedia this morning, and was struck by inspiration. I quickly cobbled together this random encounter generator for feudal Japanese military units.

Random Encounter Generator for Feudal Japan-inspired Settings

For large swathes of its history Japan was riven by internecine warfare, notably the periods of ‘feudal anarchy’ in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. During those years the feudal lords (Daimyo) kept large standing armies which were constantly on the move throughout the country. It stands to reason that adventurers traveling in such a setting would have a relatively high chance of stumbling across one or more military units. This is a system for generating random encounters with such units.

The results will generate encounters with units varying in size from 11 individuals to 10,000 soldiers. Larger armies will include scouts, usually mounted, so DMs should take their existence into consideration when such an encounter is rolled.

Table 1 assumes that the DM wishes for a completely random encounter. Obviously the result should be chosen non-randomly if that would serve the game better.

The first step is to determine the force's general mission. This will affect its size and composition. Roll a d100 and consult the following table to determine the type of force, then note down the letter in brackets (the unit type), as this will affect the composition of the unit.

Table 1: Type of Force

0-5. An escort for a minor noble (A).
6-10. An escort for a major noble (A).
11-25. A raiding party (B).
26-40. A force being sent to clear out bandits from a local area (B).
41-50. Troops being redeployed to a nearby castle (C).
51-65. A small force sent to deal with a minor skirmish (C).
66-80. A small force sent to deal with a boundary dispute (C).
81-86. A screen or feint for a larger force (D).
87-95. An army, representing a part of the military strength of a major lord (E).
96-100. An army, representing the bulk of the military strength of a minor lord (E).

Next, determine the force's size. Roll a d100 and multiply according to the following guidelines in order to find out the number of individuals in the unit. Always re-roll results of less than 10.

Table 2: Size of Force

A - x1
B - x3
C - x10
D - x5
E - x100

The third step is to determine the force's general composition. Roll a d6 and consult the relevant chart for the force's unit type.

Table 3 - Force Composition

1. 50% light cavalry, 50% medium infantry
2. 50% light cavalry, 50% heavy infantry
3. 50% light cavalry, 50% archers
4. 50% medium cavalry, 50% medium infantry
5. 50% medium cavalry, 50% archers
6. 50% heavy cavalry, 50% heavy infantry

1. 25% light cavalry, 50% medium infantry, 25% archers
2. 25% light cavalry, 75% medium infantry
3. 25% medium cavalry, 50% medium infantry, 25% archers
4. 25% medium cavalry, 25% heavy infantry, 25% medium infantry, 25% archers
5. 50% light cavalry, 50% heavy infantry
6. 25% heavy cavalry, 50% heavy infantry, 25% archers

1. 10% light cavalry, 10% medium cavalry, 25% heavy infantry, 40% light infantry, 15% archers
2. 10% light cavalry, 35% medium cavalry, 40% medium infantry, 15% archers
3. 10% light cavalry, 10% heavy cavalry, 10% heavy infantry, 50% light infantry, 10% archers, 10% special troops
4. 10% medium cavalry, 10% heavy cavalry, 25% heavy infantry, 40% light infantry, 10% archers, 5% special troops
5. 10% light cavalry, 10% heavy cavalry, 25% heavy infantry, 40% medium infantry, 15% archers
6. 15% light cavalry, 15% medium cavalry, 50% light infantry, 15% archers, 5% special troops

1. 20% light cavalry, 10% horse archers, 20% medium infantry, 40% light infantry, 10% archers
2. 10% light cavalry, 10% horse archers, 20% medium cavalry, 35% light infantry, 15% archers, 10% special troops
3. 25% light cavalry, 25% horse archers, 10% medium cavalry, 40% archers
4. 10% light cavalry, 10% medium cavalry, 25% horse archers, 50% light infantry, 5% special troops
5. 20% medium cavalry, 25% medium infantry, 40% light infantry, 15% archers
6. 10% heavy cavalry, 25% light cavalry, 50% light infantry, 15% archers

1. 5% light cavalry, 5% horse archers, 10% medium cavalry, 5% heavy cavalry, 10% heavy infantry, 20% medium infantry, 35% light infantry, 10% archers
2. 10% medium cavalry, 5% heavy cavalry, 15% heavy infantry, 15% medium infantry, 30% light infantry, 15% archers, 10% special troops.
3. 10% light cavalry, 5% medium cavalry, 15% heavy infantry, 20% medium infantry, 40% light infantry, 10% archers
4. 5% light cavalry, 10% horse archers, 10% medium cavalry, 20% medium infantry, 35% light infantry, 10% archers, 10% special troops
5. 10% horse archers, 5% medium cavalry, 5% heavy cavalry, 25% heavy infantry, 40% light infantry, 10% archers, 5% special troops
6. 5% light cavalry, 15% medium cavalry, 5% heavy infantry, 10% medium infantry, 40% light infantry, 15% archers, 5% special troops

Next, determine the nature of the troops. Roll once for each variety of troops present to find out their level of experience and equipment.

Table 3 - Nature of Troops

Light Cavalry (軽騎兵 - Keikihei).

1. Keikihei - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, light lance, javelins, leather armour, AC 7
2. Keikihei - 0-Level Fighters, 6 hp, light lance, short bow, studded leather armour, AC 6
3. Keikihei - 1-Level Fighters, 6 hp, light lance, short bow, leather armour, AC 7
4. Keikihei - 1-Level Fighters, 7 hp, light lance, javelins, studded leather, AC 6
5. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, light lance, short bow, longsword (katana), brigandine armour, AC 5
6. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, naginata, short bow, longsword (katana), brigandine armour, AC 5

Medium Cavalry (中騎兵 - Chukihei)

1. Chukihei - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, medium lance, javelins, banded mail, AC 4
2. Chukihei - 0-Level Fighters, 6 hp, medium lance, javelins, banded mail, AC 4
3. Chukihei - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, medium lance, banded mail, AC 4
4. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, medium lance, longsword (katana) splint mail, AC 4
5. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, naginata, longsword (katana) splint mail, AC 4
6. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 9 hp, longsword (katana) splint mail, AC 4

Heavy Cavalry (重騎兵 - Jukihei)

1. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 6 hp, longsword (katana), short sword (wakizashi), heavy banded mail, AC 3
2. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, longsword (katana), short sword (wakizashi), heavy banded mail, AC 3
3. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, heavy lance, longsword (katana), heavy banded mail, AC 3
4. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, heavy lance, longsword (katana), heavy banded mail, AC 3
5. Mounted Samurai - 1-Level Fighers, 10 hp, naginata, longsword (katana), heavy banded mail, AC 3
6. Mounted Samurai - 2-Level Fighters, 14 hp, heavy lance, longsword (katana), heavy banded mail, AC 2

Horse Archers (弓騎兵 - Kyukihei

1. Kyukihei - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, composite bow, short sword (wakizashi), leather armour, AC 8
2. Kyukihei - 0-Level Fighters, 5 hp, composite bow, light lance, short sword (wakizashi), leather armour, AC 8
3. Kyukihei - 0-Level Fighters, 6 hp, composite bow, light lance, short sword (wakizashi), studded leather armour, AC 7
4. Kyukihei - 0-Level Fighters, 6 hp, composite bow, long sword (katana), studded leather armour, AC 7
5. Kyukihei - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, composite bow, short sword (wakizashi), studded leather armour, AC 7
6. Kyukihei - 1-Level Fighters, 9 hp, composite bow, light lance, studded leather armoud, AC 7

Light Infantry (軽歩兵 - Keihohei

1. Ashigaru - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, spear, padded armour, AC 9
2. Ashigaru - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, spear, javelins, padded armour, AC 9
3. Ashigaru - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, long spear, padded armour, AC 9
4. Ashigaru - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, long spear, javelins, padded armour, AC 9
5. Ashigaru - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, spear, leather armour, AC 8
6. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, spear, longsword (katana), studded leather armour, AC 6

Medium Infantry (中歩兵 - Chuhohei

1. Ashigaru - 0-Level Fighters, 6 hp, long spear, brigandine armour, short sword (wakizashi), AC 6
2. Ashigaru - 0-Level Fighters, 6 hp, long spear, javelins, brigandine armour, AC 6
3. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, long spear, javelins, longsword (katana), heavy brigandine armour, AC 5
4. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, long spear, javelins, longsword (katana), splint mail, AC 4
5. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 9 hp, long spear, javelins, longsword (katana), banded mail, AC 4
6. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, long spear, longsword (katana), splint mail, AC 4

Heavy Infantry (重歩兵 - Juhohei

1. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, long spear, longsword (katana), heavy splint mail, AC 3
2. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, longsword (katana), heavy banded mail, AC 3
3. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, naginata, longsword (katana), heavy splint mail, AC 3
4. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, heavy flail, longsword (katana), heavy splint mail, AC 3
5. Foot Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, longsword (katana), short sword (wakizashi), heavy splint mail, AC 3
6. Foot Samurai - 2-Level Fighters, 14 hp, naginata, longsword (katana), heavy splint mail, AC 3

Archers (弓射手 - Kyushashu)

1. Light Archers - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, short bow, padded armour, AC 9
2. Light Archers - 0-Level Fighters, 4 hp, short bow, leather armour, AC 8
3. Medium Archers - 0-Level Fighters, 6 hp, composite bow, dirk (tanto) leather armour, AC 8
4. Medium Archers - 0-Level Fighters, 6 hp, composite bow, dirk (tanto) leather armour, AC 8
5. Heavy Archers - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, composite bow, short sword (wakizashi), banded mail, AC 4
6. Samurai Archers - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, composite bow, longsword (katana), splint mail, AC 4

"Special Troops"

1. Warrior Monks - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, naginata, brigandine armour, AC 6
2. Grenadiers - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, grenade*, leather armour, AC 8
3. Arquebusiers - 1-Level Fighters, 8 hp, arquebus, bridandine armour, AC 6
4. No-Dachi Samurai - 1-Level Fighters, 10 hp, two-handed sword (no-dachi), banded mail, AC 4
5. No-Dachi Samurai - 2-Level Fighters, 14 hp, two-handed sword (no-dachi), splint mail, AC 4
6. Elite Samurai - 3-Level Fighters, 20 hp, longsword (katana) short sword (wakizashi), splint mail, AC 4


For every 40 (or part of 40) troops of a given type, there will be a leader or officer of one level higher than his comrades. For example, if there are 250 horse archers of 1st level, seven of their number are 2nd level leaders or officers. If there are 402 ashigaru of 0-level, there are eleven 1st level leaders or officers.

Each force also has a number of 'name' characters. The highest level character will be the general or leader of the force – or in the case of unit type A, will be the noble being accompanied. The number of name characters in a force is as follows.

A - 1 for every 25, or part of 25, troops
B - 1 total
C - 1 for every 500, or part of 500, troops
D - 1 for every 100, or part of 100, troops
E - 1 for every 1000, or part of 1000, troops

Such NPCs can be generated as follows. To determine level, roll:

Table 5a – Level of Named NPC

A - d8+3
B - d4+2
C - d6+3
D - d6+2
E - d8+3

To determine class, roll:

Table 5b – Class of Named NPC

1-4: Fighter, 5: Ranger, 6: Paladin, 7-8: Cleric, 9-10; Wizard

Each name character has a 50% chance of having a magical item or magical items of treasure type S.

Sample Forces

Some sample forces generated using the above tables.

320 Samurai of the Ishiwara Clan, led by Fujihira Kenzaburo, a 4th Level Fighter. The force has been sent to deal with a boundary dispute with the Takamatsu Clan, and it consists of:

32 Light Cavalry - Mounted Samurai of 1st Level, armed with light lances, short bows and longswords, wearing brigandine armour (AC 5), and with 8 hp each. Led by a 2nd Level Fighter.

32 Heavy Cavalry – Mounted Samurai of 1st Level, armed with heavy lances and longswords, wearing heavy banded mail (AC 3), and with 10 hp each. Led by a 2nd Level Fighter.

80 Heavy Infantry – Samurai of 1st Level, armed with naginata and longswords, wearing heavy splint mail (AC 3) and with 10 hp each. Led by two 2nd Level Fighters.

128 Medium Infantry - Samurai of 1st Level, armed with long spears and longswords, wearing splint mail (AC 4) and with 10 hp each. Led by four 2nd Level Fighters.

48 Archers – Samurai of 1st Level, armed with composite bows and longswords, wearing splint mail (AC 4) and with 10 hp each. Led by two 2nd Level Fighters.

58 Keikihei and Samurai of the Muramatsu Clan, accompanying Muramatsu Tsuyoshi, an 8th Level Fighter, as he travels from his castle at Mie to his winter residence at Awahashi. The force consists of:

29 Light Cavalry – Keikihei of 0 Level, armed with light lances and short bows, wearing studded leather armour (AC 7) and with 6 hp each. Led by a 1st Level Fighter.

29 Medium Infantry – Samurai of 1st Level, armed with long spears, javelins and longswords, wearing heavy brigandine armour (AC 5) and with 8 hp each. Led by a 2nd Level Fighter.

560 Men of the Mizaru Clan, led by Bamba Tsutomu, a 7th Level Cleric of Amaterasu. The force has been sent to head off a group of samurai of the Iwamura Clan who are making for an important fishing port owned by the Mizarus, in an apparent attempt to raize it. The force consists of:

84 Light Cavalry – Mounted Samurai of 1st Level, armed with light lances, short bows and longswords, wearing brigandine armour (AC 5) and with 8 hp each. Led by three 2nd Level Fighters.

84 Medium Cavalry – Mounted Samurai of 1st Level, armed with medium lances and longswords, wearing splint mail (AC 4) and with 8 hp each. Led by three 2nd Level Fighters.

280 Light Infantry – Ashigaru of 0-Level, armed with spears and javelins, wearing padded armour (AC 9) and with 4 hp each. Led by seven 1st Level Fighters.

84 Archers – Archers of 0-Level, armed with composite bows and dirks, wearing leather armour (AC 8) and with 6 hp each. Led by three 1st Level Fighters.

28 No-Dachi Samurai – Samurai of 2nd Level, armed with two-handed swords, wearing splint mail (AC 4) and with 14 hp each. Led by a 3rd Level Fighter.

99 Men of the Yamada Clan, led by Hitotsuyanagi Ushi, a 6th Level Fighter. The force has been sent to clear a gang of bandits out from a rise of wooded hills on the borders of the Yamada Clan’s lands, and consists of:

25 Heavy Cavalry – Samurai of 1st Level, armed with heavy lances and longswords, wearing heavy banded mail (AC 3) and with 10 hp each. Led by a 2nd Level Fighter.

24 Archers – Samurai of 1st Level, armed with composite bows and longswords, wearing splint mail (AC 4) and with 10 hp each. Led by a 2nd Level Fighter.

50 Heavy Infantry – Samurai of 2nd Level, armed with naginata and longswords, wearing heavy splint mail (AC 3) and with 14 hp each. Led by a 3rd Level Fighter.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Inspirational Pictures

Some inspirational photos found while traipsing around google search results and wikicommons. Doing this never fails to get my creative juices flowing. If only I could find the time for the many, many campaign ideas...

Ships orphaned by the disappearance of the Aral Sea in Moynaq, Uzbekistan. (Full of treasure? Ghosts? Both?)

Stone structures from the "Japanese Atlantis" off the coast of Yonaguni Island in the Southern part of Okinawa. (Ancient submerged city? Home of tritons, sahuagin or a dead kuo-toan god?)

The Old Man of Storr, a rock formation on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. (Lair of witches? Sacrificial altar for a sinister cult? Entrance to a dwarven citadel?)

More some other time, maybe.

Friday 10 October 2008

Cursing Shrines

Shrines are generally places of veneration and blessing, where people can come to seek favours from ancestral or nature spirits. However, certain shrines are also known for being the haunts of less benign beings - spirits who are willing to act towards malevolent ends. Shrines where these spirits are found are usually hidden in isolated mountain valleys or forest groves, away from prying eyes and centres of population. They are known as 'cursing shrines'.

The malevolent spirits inhabiting such places are shy and unwilling to reveal themselves to strangers. They are ever watchful for intruders into their shadowy lairs, and will flee into hiding as soon as human beings approach. Therefore, communication with them can only be accomplished through less direct means - the most common of which is the tying of written messages, on small scraps of paper, to branches and shrubbery around the shrine's perimeter.

Typically these messages are only three lines long and contain three pieces of information - a desired victim's name and location, and desired ill-effect. If the spirits read one of these messages and are satisfied with the gift they are given (see below) they will act out the curse to the best of their ability within certain restrictions:
  • The victim must live within a fifty mile radius of the location of the cursing shrine.
  • The victim must be human.
  • The victim must not be a paladin.
The curse typically takes one of the three following forms (although other effects are possible on consultation with the DM):
  • Effect of a contagion spell
  • Effect of a feeblemind spell
  • Effect of a geas spell
These effects allow no saving throw and are permanent; they can only be removed by a cleric's remove curse spell (this means that, for example, a heal spell will not remove the contagion). In the case of a geas, the character requesting the curse must specify the nature of the geas in his written message to the spirits. Restrictions of the geas spell apply, i.e. a character cannot be forced to kill or recklessly endanger himself.

The spirits require costly gifts to carry out a curse. Typically, an offering should be made in the form of a magical item worth not less than the level of the spell on which the curse is based x 1,000 gps. Therefore a contagion curse will require a gift of a magical item worth not less than 4,000 gold pieces. The DM should feel free to double the cost for particularly powerful or difficult targets.

Characters who are affected by the curse will usually be unaware of the cause of their affliction. However, if a detect evil spell is cast on the character by a cleric of at least 3rd level, the nature of the malady will become apparent.

Thursday 9 October 2008


Noisms' law: write a blog entry about how you'll be writing lots of exciting blog entries over the coming week, and you are sure to lose your network connection. Such is life. Anyway, without further ado:


Oni are malevolent spirits taken humanoid form, whose sole purpose is to plague mankind. Like their relatives the Rakshasa, they delight in causing mayhem and destruction, and their existence is an abhorrence to the natural world. They are creatures of chaos, and have no uniformity of appearance or purpose beyond misery and harm - though in combat many show a preference for great iron clubs called kanabo.

Nobody knows the origin of the Oni, though some suspect they are the souls of the evil and insane dead, brought back to the world of the living from jigoku (hell) by Izanami, Goddess of Death, for purposes unknown.

The basic Oni template is detailed below. The DM should roll for appearance/special abilities and hit dice in the relevant charts.

Climate/Terrain: Any
Frequency: Rare
Organisation: Solitary, Band
Activity Cycle: Any
Diet: Carnivore
Intelligence: Low - High (d6+8)
Treasure: D
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
No. App.: 1, or 1-8
Armour Class: -1 - 2 (d4-2)
Movement: 12
Hit Dice: 5 - 10 (d6+4)
Thac0: By Hit Dice
No. of Attacks: 3
Dam/Attack: d10+2/d10+2/d8+3 (By weapon/by weapon/bite)
Special Attacks: If an Oni is wielding a kanabo, with each successful strike he can stun his enemy, causing the opponent to lose initiative in the next round.
Special Defenses: Oni can only be wounded by enchanted weapons.
Magic Resistance: 1d100%
Morale: Champion (15-16)

Roll one d12 d3 times on the following table for each Oni's appearance/abilities:
1 - Horns. The Oni has two twisted horns sticking out from its forehead, like a goat.
2 - Horn. The Oni has a single, narwhal-like horn sticking out from its forehead.
3 - Skin Like Ice. The Oni's skin is freezing cold, and anything it touches or which is touched by it suffers 1 hit point of cold damage.
4 - Skin Like Fire. The Oni's skin is boiling hot, and anything it touches or which is touched by it suffers 1 hit point of heat damage (this result cancels a roll of '3').
5 - Withering Gaze. The Oni's very glare is enough to chill the soul. Three times per day it can gaze to cause energy drain.
6 - Vampiric Bite. If the Oni hits with its bite attack, it can drain d6 additional hit points and add them to its own total.
7 - Coloured Skin. The Oni has purple (1), red (2), yellow (3) or blue (4) skin (roll a d4). Purple-skinned Oni have +25% resistance to magic. Red-skinned Oni have 50% resistance to fire damage. Yellow-skinned Oni can only be hurt by weapons enchanted to +2. Blue-skinned Oni have 50% resistance to cold damage.
8 - Stinging Beard - The Oni has a long, ragged beard, interwoven with rocks and pieces of metal and broken glass. It can use its beard like a scourge in combat, gaining an extra attack for d4 damage.
9 - Third Arm - The Oni has a third arm, and gains an additional attack per round.
10 - Third Leg - The Oni has a third leg, which raises its movement rate to 15.
11 - Tail - The Oni has a prehensile tail, which can hold a weapon of small size to gain an extra attack.
12 - Third Eye - The Oni has a third eye. This allows it to cast spells as a 3rd level Magic User.

Saturday 4 October 2008

Gaming in, and Games set in, Japan

[Foreword: Don't read this is you like manga and are easily offended. You won't like it.]

I've lived in Japan for over four years now, in total, and I like RPGs. You'd think this would be a good mix, but in fact it really isn't. You see, the Japanese nerd tropes - anime, manga, J-pop, cosplay, all the things which drive so many Western geek-types to distraction - those things do absolutely nothing for me. I couldn't be less interested. I can barely stand Western adult comics (a "good comic" to me is Dilbert, Garfield, Peanuts, Asterix the Gaul), let alone Japanese ones, with their hideous big-eyed shiny faced hyper-cuteness and their awful nonsensical storylines. The whole recent manga-fad is reminiscent of The Emperor's New Clothes, and I'm just waiting for the moment when the penny drops and people realise that just because something has Japanese writing on it, that doesn't automatically make it cool.

I think it's because I came to Japan "cold". I adored (and still adore) Kurosawa's films, ever since I was first exposed to them at the age of 10 when I ransacked my Dad's video collection and dug out something called The Hidden Fortress. (Incidentally, has there ever been a more intriguing film title than that?) But when I stepped off the plane at Narita airport in March 2003 - a wide-eyed 21 year old at loose in a foreign land - I wasn't your typical manga geek and my only contact with anime had been through Akira. It wasn't my scene at all, and still isn't. Japan was fresh to me and I got to know it by living and working here.

(I did try to get into manga, by the way. When I first started studying Japanese I would often buy comics to practice with. This is how I learned the truth about how godawful the storylines usually are. Aside from the work of genuine talents like Tezuka Osamu and Oguri Saori, none of what I read stuck in my mind as being of any value whatsoever. Almost all of it is mindless fluff, or - radical concept! - written for kids. [Disclaimer: This is all my subjective opinion.])

Nor am I really into samurai and the like, much as I love a good Kurosawa epic. The romanticisation of the samurai (exemplified in films like The Last Samurai and novels like Shogun) is something I actually find deeply sinister; worse, it is based on a Japanese culture that never really existed - or at least only existed in the minds of Westerners and Japanese imperalist/fascists.

I also have to admit a certain distaste for the current trendiness of Japanese culture in Western society. The popularity of manga, cosplaying and the like is really just a new form of orientalism - although at least the old orientalism gave us Van Gogh. And for somebody who actually lives in the country and has to get on with people as people - not grotesque caricatures on a comic book page - I can't help but get mightily pissed off at the image of Japan which the whole thing perpetuates: a land of perverted, socially inept weirdos, basically, which it really isn't. And the whole thing stands in the way of people getting to know the real greats of Japanese art and literature - fantastically gifted nobel-prize winning authors, brilliant painters, great visionary film makers.

All of these reasons are why I avoid games in Japan or pseudo-Japanese settings like the plague. This is despite the fact that I would like to run them. I know a lot about the country, speak its language fluently, and have an intimate knowledge of its history. I want to put that knowledge to good use. If only I could find people who I could trust not to behave like manga geeks - because the alternative (a game with those who know a little, but not enough) would be a fate worse than death.

ADDENDUM: It occurs to me that this post goes against my recent promise to stop ranting and be positive instead. So here's what I'll do: a series of articles next week on how to Japan-ise your game! Can't say fairer than that, now, can you?

Thursday 2 October 2008

Great Blog Posts, and Lessons of History

There was a brilliant post on d21 gaming the other day about Pizzaro and the conquest of the Incas, and what that has to say about D&D and pillaging/tomb-robbing/ethical considerations in general. It's a thoroughly thought-provoking read, and the kind of stuff that makes having my so-big-it's-positively-unwieldy google reader list worthwhile. The author makes the point that:
In D&D parlance, we are expectant of a similar truth [to that which the conquistadors believed in]– there’s gold and jewels and magic just lying around in dark and dangerous places. It’s all yours, you just have to go get it yourself. A necessary evil of this conceit is the necessity of evil: adventuring companies are good, because monsters are evil.

The necessity of evil: almost a motto for D&D itself, you might say.

Now, I don't wish to get into the ethical argument here. It depends very much on the kind of game you want to run. I can see the value of a campaign in which the moral ambiguities of 'adventuring' are addressed, and I can see it being fun and interesting. But I equally enjoy the straightforward 'adventures' of long tradition, where moral ambiguities are ignored, and wouldn't want to give those kind of games up. There is room for both.

What I want to talk about is the concept of adventurer as well armed entrepeneur, in the words of Kim MacQuarrie.The d21 Gaming author sums it up as follows:

The Spanish conquest, plunder, and colonization of the New World was hardly an organized affair. It was not carried out by career soldiers, and indeed Europe had been bereft of such ever since the Roman legions ceased to be. Rather it was carried out by adventuring companies, who applied for and were granted charters by the government to explore blank areas on the map; rather not unlike getting a fishing license. Would-be adventurers typically hailed from the poorest and meanest regions of Spain – Extremadura (best region name ever!) and its surroundings produced not only Cortes and Pizarro, but also Balboa, Ponce de Leon and de Soto.

A novice adventurer would sign on with a seasoned band of leaders who were recruiting a new company, themselves likely veterans of the same system. Such a company might have a few hundred members – what could reasonably be transported and deployed with a few ships. The charter would detail the value of what each member was contributing in material value – weapons, armor, horses, tack, other provisions, and the proceeds of the expedition were to be divided among any surviving members in proportion to what was “put in”. Basically these were commoners or thugs with not a shred of practical experience...

...just like 1st level D&D characters.

So this has me thinking. A few months ago I was toying with the idea of an Adventurer's Guild - a central, semi-organised authority on the edge of a great wilderness, which adventurers would join for special benefits, in return for handing over a tithe of all their findings. The idea of a conquistador company is remarkably similar - the only difference being that the Adventurer's Guild is static, whereas the conquistador company is mobile. So what if we merge the two ideas and come up with a static Adventurer's Guild which was founded by a conquistador company? I think that's a capital idea.

The early colonial era is my favourite period of history, but my favourite explorers were mostly Portuguese, rather than Spanish. It was the Portuguese who did it first, after all. So my Adventurer's/Conquistador's Guild is going to be based around the Bandeirantes - the 'colonial scouts' of old Brazil, who struck deep into the rainforest, seeking mineral wealth and pushing the boundaries of Portuguese rule from the coast right through to the borders with Peru. Unlike the Spanish conquistadors, the Bandeirantes were mestizos and Indians much more than they were Europeans, and their main language was the Tupi-based Lingua Geral, not Portuguese. There is plenty of moral ambiguity about them if you look for it (they were motivated as much by the capture of slaves as they were by finding mineral wealth), but if you are willing to ignore that aspect, what you have is jungle explorers somewhat akin to Indiana Jones, striking out into almost impenetrable rainforest in search of gold and magical artifacts, and you can't get much cooler than that.

Wednesday 1 October 2008


Although not as common as half-elves or half-orcs, half-dwarves can be found in certain parts of the world where there is regular contact between dwarves and humans. Most are products of political unions, it must be said, although there are some occasions when a pretty young dwarf maiden, sans beard as is the fashion in youthful dwarven females, catches the eye of a human swain.

Most half-dwarves could pass for either a short and stocky human, or an unusually tall or slender dwarf. Their appearance varies as to which society they are integrated into: those who live in human areas tend to trim their beards or shave them off entirely; those who live alongside dwarves usually let their beards grow.


Ability Score Requirements:

STR 6/18
DEX 3/18
CON 9/18
INT 3/18
WIS 3/18
CHR 3/18

Average Height and Weight:

Height: 49/46 +1d10
Weight: 135/100 +4d10

Special Abilities:

Half-dwarves should roll 3 times on the following table to determine their special abilities. By default, they have no special abilities except 30' infravision and magical resistance, and cannot use wizard magic.

1 - The character can use magic and adventure as a wizard, but does not have dwarven magical resistance.
2- The character has infravision to 60'.
3 - The character has the resistance to poison which dwarves enjoy.
4 - The character has a dwarf's mining abilities.
5 - The character has +1 to his attacks when fighting an orc, half-orc, goblin, hobgoblin or bugbear.
6 - The character has +1 to CON, but -1 to CHR.

Half-dwarves can be any class - including wizards if they roll a 1 on the special ability table. They have unlimited advancement as a fighter or cleric, and can advance to level 14 in any other class.