Thursday, December 31, 2009

Player Characters - I find Survivors More Engaging Than Badasses

Superman is boring. He's too powerful, he may be a great symbol and I think it's a great concept but I just don't find superman engaging. Aside from convoluted corner cases he can accomplish almost anything sans risk.

I don't find Jedi engaging either. I'm not into superheros. My Conan is the vulnerable, human, literary one. I prefer the Ash of the first Evil Dead movie. I think Aliens kinda sucks compared to the Lovecraftian terror of Alien. I don't like it when a video or computer game is too easy, I prefer desperately conserving my ammunition while crawling behind cover a half mile away from the vastly superior enemy.

The Road Warrior. Indiana Jones. Snake Pliskin. James T. Kirk. Fors the "Star Mans Son." Hiero. Dirty Harry. Ripley. "Blondie" and "Tuco the Rat." These are the heroes I find engaging. They may have been high level characters, some even bad-asses, but they were human characters that often failed, often got hurt, and pretty much got to high level by using good tactics and consistently making the important saving throws. They were no Batman, Wolverine, Lobo, Lone Wolf or Rambo. They weren't perfect.

Perfection is boring in large doses.

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction with plenty of adventure fiction. Most of this stuff was from the public and school libraries and generally it was old. They had a distinct smell. In many cases the artwork was almost alien in it's difference from the modern art I was used to. In most cases the protagonists of said fiction were "ordinary" people. Sure they may have been genius scientists or tough soldiers, but they were human, and they were frail in the way real people are. They could twist an ankle or break an arm. They plans could fail, catastrophically even. They often got lost deep in hostile wilderness without full kit. They got sick. They didn't want to get into a gunfight or even a two-on-one. They got beat up or overpowered and if they got shot they usually woke up in a hospital or tied to a chair in a basement.

That's what adventure meant to me as I grew up. That what I want when I play D&D.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Nice Little Quote That Says Tons About "Attitudes of Player Entitlement"

From this page of a discussion about AD&D on ENworld...

"...18/00- The wonderful gateway drug to bonus bloat. A beginning perhaps, to the insane notion that because it existed, every fighter had to have it or they might as well reroll. What is rubbish isn't the score itself, but the mentality that it helped inspire...."
- ExploderWizard
This is part of the reason I use the "roll 3d6 straight down" method for generating ability scores, your characters takes whatever fate or genetics gives them and they deal with it.

Funnily enough, some of the favorite pcs in our game are/were the ones with a deficient ability score or three...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chapter 13, Part 1: "The Face-Eaters..."

This Episode's Cast of Characters:

Buzz Brazelhatch - Rowdy, Hearty and Lusty Australian Adventurer
Corporal Radar O' Reiley - Earth Man Rocketship-Soldier, Former Crewmate of Dank Darkstar
Dank Darkstar - Earth Man (Texan) Fighting-Man,
Former Crewman of the Scout Rocket Alpha
Mookla of the Slime Lands - Fighting-Mutant possessing a Sulfurous Stench and twisted limbs
Nigel Nightbringer - British Man-at-Arms
Rodan the Scrounger - Zermish (Green) Man Fighting-Man and Scavenger
Thibodeaux - 1850s' Nevada Alien Abductee, Cousin of Jedediah
Thragg the Skyman - Zermish Man Ornithopter Passenger and Fighting-Man


Jhooghovahr - Vhaashti Man Noble

Part II Here.

It's morning on a rocky slope in the Bornite Mountains above the Forbidden Mist Valley. A camp of adventurers are rising from their slumber and are in alarm as two members of the party, Dickie Dee the Bone Man Sorcerer and Jedediah the 1850s American Southerner, as well as their mounts, have disappeared during the night.

Jedediah's cousin Thibodeaux expresses worry that the inhabitants of the flying saucer that the party had passed yesterday have taken the pair; an understandable concern considering that both of the cousins are on Planet Algol due to being abducted by "aliens".

As the worried party hurriedly pack their gear on their orniths, two figures are seen riding up the mountainside and out of the white fog of the Forbidden Mist Valley: Rodan the Scrounger and Corporal Radar O'Reiley.

There is a brief reunion as Radar and Dank Darkstar recognize each other as fellow crew members of Earth Man vessel Scout Rocket Alpha. Dank is surprised that Radar no longer has his metal prosthetic nose (as his nose was eaten by a baboon during their initial, and disastrous, expedition to the surface of Planet Algol). Radar then carefully explains how his body was completely regenerated after he was slain by the bird-mutants of the pastel chalk cliffs.

Rodan the notorious Scrounger exhibits curiosity regarding the three recent additions to the party, who exchange greetings and brief introductions. Buzz then explains their mission toward the Vaults of Eternity; namely that their patron Jhooghovar seeks to enter the Vaults so that he can destroy a dangerous terraforming device of the Elder Races. Rodan is skeptical of Jhooghovar, and his scrounging mind begins scheming.

Once these matters are all carefully explained, the party takes a quick survey of their surroundings and ready themselves to once again make for the Vaults of Eternity. With their baggage packed, they ride their mounts down into the thick, cold, moldy white fog of the Forbidden Mist Valley.

After an hour of making their way through the monotonous vista of steep mossy hills, seeing not much else but an occasional white boulder or three, a group of hunched shaggy forms lurch from the mist ahead. As they draw closer the party sees the shambling forms belong to a pack of man-sized baboons!

Radar screams in terror as the shaggy white forms shamble forward waving bone clubs, all the while snarling to expose their long fangs. Parasitic gray fungus grows in their matted hair and a dim vicious intelligence glares from their eyes. While the party holds their ground and the front ranks of fighting men ready their halberds, Mookla the Mutant and Dank Darkstar run away; Radar O'Reily stands paralyzed with fright.

The mass of baboons charge the group, aside from a smaller group that lope after Mookla and Dank. It is a ferocious battle, halberds and swords stab and chop at the baboons who reply in turn with clubs and teeth. Dank Darkstar puts bullet after bullet into baboons before three surround him.

Rodan the Scrounger sees Dank's situation and begins firing his laser pistol at the baboons assaulting the Texan. Seeing this, Radar overcomes his fear and begins bashing away with his magical bronze battle axe. While the party is hacking down baboons, Dank's foes bludgeon and tear at him while he continues calmly firing his pistol at his fierce and snarling foes. Two of the baboons attacking Dank are soon slain, one by Rodan's laser beam, the other by the magic axe of Radar. Still, the third of Dank's baboons sinks his teeth into the neck of Dank and the Earth Man is borne to the ground by this remaining antogonist who then begins savagely eating his face. The party, with much effort slays the remaining baboons, including the one that is hunched over Dank's body, and takes stock of the situation.

Upon closer inspection, Dank Darkstar is indisputably dead, and nearly unrecognizable. Although he was liked by the party, the fact remains that he was a companion of theirs for only a few days and Rodan's Eye of Bestowing Life remains in his pouch. Rodan the Scrounger immediately begins going through the deceased Texan's belongings and begins distributing his gear: a Colt 1911 .45 automatic and ammunition, a lever-action rifle and ammunition, plasteel cable, mesh armor, a radiation crystal (which Rodan pockets), two glow rods, a set of Earth Man tools, and three medi-sprays. Mookla the Mutant asks for the medi-spray, but the reeking mutant's request is ignored by the True Men of the party.

The adventurers then quicky mount their steeds, and putting heels to hind quarters, dash away, moving ever onward to the Vaults of Eternity...

Chapter 12, Part 3: "The Sky-Chariot..."

Part I Here, Part II Here

The party arise with the suns of Algol on a mountain slope above the Forbidden Mist Valley. Buzz Brazelhatch and Dickie Dee wipe sleep from their eyes as they pull out their maps and debate the route the party will take while seeking the Vaults of Eternity.

Although they could travel along the mountain-sides above the level of the mists, thereby avoiding it's miserable and confusing effects, they would have to walk their orniths through shattered slabs of rough mountainous terrain which could take days. With grave misgivings they decide to return to the cold and moldy fog and ride down into the valley while attempting to chart a course northwards.

Roughly two hours later the outriders see a huge form looming out of the mist. As the party gathers, they apprehensively peer through the fog. As they draw near the fog lightens somewhat and they see the tilted form of a massive silvery flying saucer with roughly one-third of it's mass embedded in the torn and scarred earth of the valley floor: Hobab's flying saucer! Five slender manlike forms in silver suits are spotted clustered about; apparently working on an aperture on the saucer's upper surface.

The nineteenth century American cousins Thibodaux and Jedediah begin muttering amongst themselves as the strange sight recalls their abduction from Earth, the more they mutter the more their tempers begin to rise. Others join in the discussion and the whole party begins excitedly debating their next move in whispers, all the while trying to be inconspicuous in the rolling, featureless green terrain.

One of the laboring silver forms turns around to grab a tool and is soon seen pointing at the party, during which a faint chirping sound is heard. Seeing this, the party excitedly debates their next move and the strange beings begin clambering inside the aperture which quickly closes behind them.

After the aperture closes the party waits for a short while before riding up to the saucer with their weapons ready. Buzz climbs up onto the upper surface of the saucer, which makes no sound when he walks on it, and strides over to where the silver suited beings were laboring. He notices the door of the aperture is a smooth silvery disk, apparently of the same material as the saucer, with a faint seam where it opened and a small raised black disk in the center, within which contained a tiny recessed glass circle. Buzz touches the circle and his entire body is immediately engulfed in flames.

Buzz awakens to his companions tending to him and finds out he was rendered momentarily unconscious immediately upon touching the disk; he seems unharmed, although his finger is swollen and reddish as if it had been plunged into boiling water.

The party next examines the other side of the saucer and finds a larger yet similar "door" on the vessel's anterior surface. Seeing no immediate way to make entry, the decision is made to further investigate the saucer at a later date and the party continues on their journey toward the Vaults of Eternity.

Hours later the party rides out of the mist and onto the southern flank of a towering iridescent bornite peak. Maps are consulted and it is determined that they are roughly five miles northwest of the Vaults of Eternity. The decision is made to camp on the mountainside for the night.

While the party is preparing camp Jedediah goes for a stroll in order to get away from Mookla the Mutant of the Slime Land's nauseating stench, and at a short distance from the campsite he notices Mookla's stench dissipates only to be replaced by a strong reptilian musk!

Jedediah looks about cautiously and spots faint tracks leading up and down the mountainside. They remind the southerner of 'gator tracks, only much much larger in scale. Jedediah runs in his characteristic loping gait back to the party and they immediately break camp and travel for a couple hours northeast along the slope before deciding to rest.

That night while some of the party are standing guard a horrible and loud slithering sound is heard from the southwest descending from the peak and into the valley. Later, before morning, while others are standing watch, they hear the sound again, this time emerging from the valley and ascending the mountainside towards the peak.

That morning the companions arise in horror to find that Dickie Dee, Jedediah, and their respective orniths have disappeared during the night...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chapter 12, Part 2: "Return to the Bornite Mountains"

This Episode's Cast of Characters:

Buzz Brazelhach - Rowdy, Hearty and Lusty Australian Adventurer
Dickie Dee - Bone Man Intoxicant Addict and Sorcerer
Jedediah - 1850s' Nevada Alien Abductee, Cousin of Thibodeaux
Nigel Nightbringer - British Man-at-Arms
Thibodeaux - 1850s' Nevada Alien Abductee, Cousin of Jedediah
Thragg the Skyman - Zermish Man Ornithopter Passenger and Fighting-Man
Dank Darkstar - Earth Man (Texan) Fighting-Man,
Former Crewman of the Scout Rocket Alpha
Mookla of the Slime Lands - Fighting-Mutant possessing a Sulfurous Stench and twisted limbs

Part I Here, Part III Here.

The party sets forth from the rough mining town of Pit into the Prismatic Wastes, the towering iridescent heaps of the Bornite Mountains on their right as they travel through the foothills. Eventually, when the rolling green Moss Steppes are visible to the northwest, Buzz seeks out a familiar trail leading up into the mountains.

The party, especially Thragg the Skyman who is clad in a cumbersome splint mail harness, make slow progress through the rocky heaving paths of the Bornite Mountain. On more than one occasion the companions watch in sullen disgust as Thragg clumsily tumbles or slides down a rocky slope.

When the party is settled in a makeshift campsite for the night their patron, the hunted Vaasht nobleman Jhooghavahr, makes a fuss about how long it's taking to travel through the mountains and begins harassing Thragg the Skyman to switch to less encumbering armor, eventually offering the use of his own suit of richly-dyed weave armor to Thragg.

Thragg finally concedes and the splint armor joins the rest of his baggage. Later the next day the party is traversing a narrow, deep defile. As the wind is coming from behind the party, Mookla the reeking mutant is sent ahead of the party and is the first to see three loathsome worm-like forms coiled in the rocks.

As Mookla shouts a warning the three things uncoil and begin slithering, one towards Mookla the other two heading for the rest of the party. Their slimy skins consist of mottled patches of scales and banded chiton, irregular wavering fringes of segmented legs sprout out of their sides, and their heads are a hideous conglomeration of bulging green fly-like eyes, quivering poison dripping mandibles, a gaping fanged soft mouth, and unsettling idiotic features.
One of the things sinks it's mouthparts into Mookla's coarse hide, which turns green as the mutant spasms and collapses. Jedediah fires two shots at one of the things, both missing, before punching it in the face with his shield as it strikes at him. Jhooghovahr dashes away from the melee and Dickie Dee takes advantage of the opportunity to cast a spell at the Vaasht Nobleman's retreating back before dashing after him into a nook in the mountainside.

Swords and halberds lash out at the monsters while one of the things sucks Mookla's lifeless form into it's rubbery expansive maw. Thragg is struck by the fangs of one, turns deep green and falls. Dank Darkstar maneuvers behind the creatures and fires several times with his automatic rifle, putting a bullet into one of his companion's thighs. Jedediah repeatedly punches away at the head of one of the abominations with his shield before it finally succeeds in biting him. The pain is agonizing but the Earth Man fights off the poison and keeps fighting.

Soon the three disgusting monsters lie dead, hacked into pieces. Jhooghovahr rushes forth while unwrapping a metal box-like contraption with several segmented arms. He places it on the chest of Thragg, who was poisoned by one of the things and lies lifeless at his feet. Several of the segmented arms unfold and begin putting probes and needles into Thragg's skin before the Skyman's breath starts and his eyes open. Meanwhile Jedediah hacks open one of the monsters with his bowie knife and pulls out Mookla's lifeless form. The party briefly debates saving the disgusting mutant's life, and Jhooghovahr's medical device is dispatched to neutralized the poison in Mookla's system and restart his mutant heart.

After a brief rest the companions continue their journey, and Dickie Dee begins questioning Jhooghovahr about the secrets of his mission. The unwitting Vaasht Man speaks freely of his quest, being unaware that the Bone Man Sorcerer has placed a glamour upon him.

Jhooghovahr explains that for generations his family has held the secret of how to operate a terraforming device located in the Vaults of Eternity. Shadowy villains, agents of the Lords of Change, have been attempting to obtain this secret for their own nefarious ends. His family has been slain one by one as these villains know the necromantic arts which allow them to steal the secrets of the dead.

Jhooghovahr however, is the only member of his family who knows the secrets of the terraforming device, the knowledge of which requires a lifetime of study of the multidimensional operations of the inhuman artifact. When the keeper of the secret dies his brain is fed to a vat of specially bred flatworms. Once the brain is devoured, the flatworms would be processed with certain special compounds, the mixture would then be drunk by the next in line to hold the secrets. That individual would then know how to operate the terraforming device. When Jhooghovahr's father died, the process was repeated and Jhooghovahr drank the mixture, becoming the current holder of the secret.

Now, with all of his family dead and villains seeking to steal the secrets from his brain, Jhooghovahr plans to descend through the labyrinths of the Vaults of Eternity to the terraforming device of the Elder Races and destroy it with an artifact of the Ancients: a disintegration bomb.

With this story circulating in their minds, the party makes camp on a bornite slope a few miles above the white fog of the Forbidden Mist Valley and prepares to set watch.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"...Make It Count...Make it Count...By Thrazar Make it Count!!!..."

...Coming Soon...

...In 2010...

Special thanks to Steve Zieser of Curmudgeons and Dragons for the amazing artwork!

Chapter 12, Part 1: "The Hooded Petitioner"

This Episode's Cast of Characters:

Buzz Brazelhach - Rowdy, Hearty and Lusty Australian Adventurer
Dickie Dee - Bone Man Intoxicant Addict and Sorcerer
Jedediah - 1850s' Nevada Alien Abductee, Cousin of Thibodeaux
Nigel Nightbringer - British Man-at-Arms
Thibodeaux - 1850s' Nevada Alien Abductee, Cousin of Jedediah
Thragg the Skyman - Zermish Man Ornithopter Passenger and Fighting-Man

and introducing:
Dank Darkstar - Earth Man (Texan) Fighting-Man, Former Crewman of the Scout Rocket Alpha
Mookla of the Slime Lands - Fighting-Mutant possessing a Sulfurous Stench and twisted limbs

Part II Here, Part III Here.

The party rests in Agog city for a considerable span of days, enjoying the opportunity to exchange gold for soft beds, gin and companionship while Xarnagan Vrokk retires to the Sage Hive in order to further research Radiation Crystals.

Dickie Dee, Jedediah and Thragg make their way from Jakay and rejoin the party, who are now bored, restless and seeking adventure. They come across Dank Darkstar, a Texan and former crewmate of their erstwhile companions Radar O'Reiley and Moon Martin of the Scout Rocket Alpha. As Dank has several firearms on his person he is invited to join the party.

Seeing that Dank has both a Colt 1911 Automatic and a long-barreled revolver holstered on his hips, Jedediah makes an offer for the six-gun and soon has the hogleg thrust through the waistband of his pants.

As they always do in populated areas, the party seeks out any merchants selling guns or ammunition but only find a pair of rifle cartridges and a half-empty box of pistol ammunition which they snap up. Next they start pounding the plasticrete seeking appropriate employment for a band of gold-hungry sword-slingers.

A hooded, cloaked form lurking in an alley hisses and motions to the party's Australian leader, Buzz Brazelhatch. Buzz investigates and sees the violet features and iridescent eyes of a Vaasht Man within the cowl of the hood. Buzz also notices the rich fabrics of the Vaasht Man's garb and presumes him to be either wealthy or a noble.

The figure explains that he is a Jhooghavahr who is seeking an escort for a mission to the Vaults of Eternity. The mission is in order to destroy a dangerous artifact before he is slain by a sorcerous assassin that follows him and has the ability to extract the knowledge of how to use the artifact from his brain.

Buzz asks for some time to consult with his companions and consider the commission and Johooghavahr agrees to meet again at the same alley when the last sun has set in the evening. Buzz returns to the party, who begin bickering and scheming.

Thragg suggests that they should acquire more warriors for such a journey, as it would involve traversing the perilous Bornite Mountains and through the confusing white fog of the Forbidden Mist Valley, where they would be traveling to the labyrinth of an Elder Race of Lich. The party agrees and Thragg leaves in order to procure the services of a destitute mutant he saw begging in the bazaar.

He returns with "Mookla of the Slime Lands," who's mutations have gifted him with a horrendous, sulfurous stench and twisted limbs with tiny, stubby fingers that render him unable to wield any but the simplest of weapons. However there seems to be the glint of a considerable intellect in his asymmetrical, mud-brown eyes and the party takes him on despite their misgivings. He tells tales of his life in the Slime Lands, where he survived due to his fierce cunning. Others surmise that his survival was probably due to the predators of that primeval swamp being repelled by his stench, and also that his malformed limbs would have been deemed unworthy of being harvested by the Phasic Machete wielding Limb Pirates of the Slime Lands.

The party decides to retire to their inn, The Flagrant Whore, and further plan out their next move, but when they arrive the staff discretely informs them that Mookla is unwelcome on the premises due to issues with his odor. The party offers to pay for him to sleep in the stable, but the inn's management explains that it would be unkind to expose the beasts to Mookla's offensive aroma and the mutant is sent away to find a place to retire for the evening.

Once the party is seated with provender, brandy, and green cigars at hand, the scheming begins in earnest. Some suggest ambushing Jhooghavahr and taking the artifact, others suggest taking payment before abandoning him in the Bornite Mountains, and a fierce debate rages before they come to a plan that involves taking the Vaasht Man to the mountains near the Vaults of Eternity, taking their payment, and leaving him to his fate.

As the Fire Demon sinks below the horizon, casting fiery gases up into the darkening skies, Buzz and Dickie return to the alleyway where the hooded Jhooghavahr lurks. The two adventurers begin fiercely interrogating the Vaasht Man who reveals that he is the last in the line of a noble family who are stewards to a secret terraforming device of the Elder Races. Secretive villains, who serve the Lords of Change, seek to master the mysteries of this device and have slain all in his family but Jhooghavahr, who is now seeking to travel to the Vaults of Eternity in order to destroy it. If this artifact and it's secrets fell into the wrong hands, the results could be catastrophic as portions of the planet's surface could be completely remade. Even with the best of intentions, one could unwittingly bring down a holocaust with the godlike powers of the terraforming device.

The two inform Jhooghavahr that the party will take the mission, and will be setting forth in a week. The Vassht Nobleman begins sputtering, explaining that with the assassin seeking him that they must leave for the Vaults of Eternity immediately!

Buzz calmly explains that if they are to return to the howling wilderness of the Bornite Mountains and Forbidden Mist Valley that he needs time in Agog City to satisfy his masculine needs, and that the party is also in need of carousing before they set out on a perilous venture.

Jhooghavahr reacts with strangled outrage before offering the party a sorcerous scroll containing four incantations from his deceased uncle's collection as an incentive to leave immediately. The two agree to leave immediately in the morning and take Jhooghavahr back to their lodgings where the party can guard him in their suite.

When they arrive at the inn, Buzz gives one of the employees fifty gold credits in order to procure some companionship. While the party enjoys their evening meal in their chamber there is a knock at the door. Buzz answers to be greeted by a voluptuous brown Angallan maid clad in translucent silks. The two retire to the large bath in the suite's sole bathroom for several hours.

The next morning the party sets out after several hours of delay as they obtain the orniths (for both riding and baggage purposes), ornith seed, preserved rations, and waterskins that they need for a long expedition into the mountains; not wishing to repeat the mistakes of their miserable previous venture. The reeking mutant Mookla finds them as they are at their preparations and rejoins the party.

The adventurers set forth on their quest with a train of pack orniths, striking northwest to skirt the mountains through the Prismatic Wastes. A couple of hours later the party is passing by the mining town of Pit when Buzz decides that they will rest for the night at the luxurious Titanium Vault. Jhooghavahr voices his objections, as speed is of the essence, but he is roundly ignored. The doorman of the Titanium Vault doesn't even let Mookla approach the hotel before informing the party that he will not be allowed near the premise or the stable, as they operate a respectable, high-class establishment.

Dejected, Mookla makes his way to one of the industrial slums of Pit, finding himself in a part of town mostly abandoned aside from furtive shifty-eyed intoxicant addicts, he drags himself under the porch of an abandoned building to rest for the night.

Meanwhile, as the party enjoys the excellent food and beverages of the Titanium Vault, Buzz is prowling the carpeted halls like a blood-crazed shark. He spots the soft, curving, ample rump of a certain orange-skinned chambermaid who throws herself into Buzz's arms when she sees him before unlocking an unoccupied suite for their dalliance.

Unlike their previous rendezvous, the Zhaghri Maiden offers up her charms without any mention of recompense, but while relaxing afterward she brings up the topic of marriage and bursts into tears, "If you're going to risk your life adventuring, I want to be your wife before you die!" Buzz frantically consoles the distraught maiden before making a rapid exit.

That night, while the party sleeps in their luxurious suite, Mookla the Mutant, who is scrunched up in the dirt beneath a porch, is awakened by snuffling and growling sounds. Cautiously peering through the cracks in his shelter he sees a dark, hunched form consisting of a vague conglomeration of the features of a man and a hyena sniffing and approaching his nest.

As Mookla's malformed hand grasps for his crude club the dark form makes several retching sounds before exclaiming in a disgusted tone that "Whatever is hiding beneath that porch smells far to bad to be worth eating," and whatever it is leaves the mutant to continue his repast.

Chapter 12, Prologue: "Radioactive Research"

Dickie Dee - Bone Man Sorcerer and Intoxicant Enthusiast
Xarnagan Vrokk - Haasht Man Fighting-Sage

Xarnagan decides to take leave of the party's seemingly endless tear of lustful abandon to return to the Hive of Sages and do more research; something he finds to be much more useful than finding lively liquids and lubricious labias to toss his valuable gold credits at. At the entrance he exclaims to the steward that he requires access in order to look into how to recharge a radiation crystal. He realizes at this point that, although being quite responsible with his retinue of coinage, he has no gold credits left, and returns to The Flagrant Whore to ask of the party to fund his research. After recieving a positive response from Dickie, Xarnagan returns to the Hive and approaches the steward and asks what service he could offer for research time. Gaining temporary entrance until matters are fully decided, Xarnagan begins to slowly peruse the Hive for applicable research material.

During this, Dickie Dee arrives bringing a bag of dirty gold credits and a strange little pill to Xarnagan,

"Xarnagan, as promised I wish to aid your research. You'll find in this bag are about 800 gold credits and a dose of a cognitive enhancer known as Sorcerer's Silver. The Captain and I are heading out on an expedition and may not be back for several weeks. When I get back I may be able to help your research, for as you know I am highly fluent in Computer."

Dickie Dee waits for Xarnagan to respond, and when it becomes apparent that he is absorbed in his research he heads out, seeking the nearest vapor lounge.

Looking up quickly, as if coming out of a trance, Xarnagan sees the form of Dickie Dee quickly exiting the room, a lightness to his step and an excited whistle in place of the typical clacking of his protruding jaw. Looking down again at the table in front of him, he sees the silver pill and bag of credits left by the Bone Man Sorcerer. Delighted that while the party is apt to spend their coinage on more frivolous things, Xarnagan notes they seem to have respect for certain party enhancing priorities at least. He also notes that he now has two pills of Sorcerer's Silver - One from Dickie, and One from Tazar the Interlocutor that he had purchased prior to befriending the likable lord of the Tower. He plans on using those two pills to their most prudent possibilities. With those thoughts in mind, he returns to the research materials that he has slowly begun to amass on the table in front of him.

Freakin' Savage Swords of Athanor on Lulu and Digest-sized Boxes

Print Version
PDF Version

When I first started getting into the Old School Revolution/Weird Planet Fantasy/Blog scene, Athanor was one of the first sites I started obsessing about. It's author, Douglas Easterly, has been posting a cornucopia of valuable "weird planet fantasy" content on his blog that I'm always eager to read, and in many cases nick for my own campaign.

Needless to say I am inordinately gratified to see that the Athanor material has been compiled, revised, and made available on Lulu. I'm unsure what the differences are between the content in this publication and the previously unveiled Athanor material, but I am eager to find out!

So congratulations to Doug Easterly, and may we see many more releases for this quality game setting!

As an aside, Doug has also been gracious enough to grant me permission to use some of his material for the upcoming Planet Algol release. Thank you very much Mr. Easterly, have a great holiday and a wonderful new year!


Two Piece Boxes, 9&3/8" x 6" x 1', perfect for digest-sized booklets (or candy)

I know of you out there in OSR-land have been assembling sets of digest-sized booklets, thanks for Planet Algol Campaign participant Lester you can now get yourself a cute little box to hold you booklets and dice! I don't know how I'm going to fit all of the AD&D/OSRIC rules in 8.5"x5.5" booklets...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Simple Mutant Character Race & more

Meet Mookla "Mutant of the Slime Lands," a new character in the Planet Algol campaign. Mookla has a strength of 12, an intelligence of 16, a constitution of 18, and a wisdom, dexterity and charisma of 4. Mookla also emits a sulfurous stench that reduces the party's chance of surprising potential foes. Mookla's twisted limbs and stubby fingers are only capable of wielding clubs and daggers. Mookla survived his former life in the Slime Lands by his considerable cunning as well as the fact that most predators found his stench unappetizing and that the Limb Pirates considered his reeking, malformed limbs unsuitable for harvest by their Phasic Machetes.

Mookla is the first real "Mutant" character in the Planet Algol game (Maggot Mort was called "The Mutant", but his mutations were birth defects responsible for his considerable ill health). Generating a Mutant character is easy: you roll a twenty-sided dice for ability scores. This will result in a crazy spread of good and bad scores; which is mutant-y to me. If a score is a 1 or 2 you change it to 3 and then roll for an associated defective mutation (more on that later). If the score is 19 or 20 you change it to 18 and you roll for an associated beneficial mutation.

Every ability score has an associated short table for beneficial and defective mutations, a mutant character could have anywhere between zero and six mutations from the tables. Examples could include fists that can be used as weapons due to a strength associated mutation, or an appearance so hideous that many assume that you are a monster and will be inclined to destroy you due to a deficient charisma associated mutation. These tables will be part of the Mutant character race rules in the Planet Algol booklet, but a creative referee should be able to come up with entertaining mutations. If it's suitable for your campaign's style (say one that is heavy with the collaborative rulings or narrative control) the player and the referee could work out the mutations. Mookla's stench was the result of rolling on the Carcosa mutation charts "just for fun," but it serves as a good example of an appropriate charisma related defective mutation.

After that you could roll 1-3 times on an appropriate mutation chart, such as the ones in Carcosa or Encounter Critical if you are so inclined, just ensure that whatever mutation table you roll on has a fairly even balance between "good" and "bad" mutations.

Mutants can be any class that they qualify for, but posses half the usual starting gold on account of them being outcasts from most societies. Mutants are always obviously mutated, although not necessarily deformed (you can use charisma as a rough guideline), and generally look like "comic book mutants." In the Planet Algol booklet there will be tables for generating random Mutant appearances.

Also, "The Philosophers and Demagogues are pleased to announce the formal unveiling of the Saucers & Sorcerers Society... ...blah blah blah... ...Raise your Gravity Sabres high for adventure!"

Saucers and Sorcerers was my attempt at creating an oldschool D&D-based "pulp/weird science fantasy adventure" ruleset for the Planet Algol campaign. I eventually went with supplementing an existing edition of D&D (in my case 1st-ed AD&D) as the easier/better option, but two sessions of "Saucers & Sorcerers" were played by our gaming group. They were pretty much a combat heavy meatgrinder, serving to acclimatize the players who were only experienced with 3rd & 4th edition to the early D&D engine, survivors have been converted to PAAD&D (planet algol ad&d) and have been slowly enlarging the roster with their firearms and high-tech loot.

The Saucers and Sorcerers Society is the umbrella organization for the participants in the Planet Algol Campaign (who also play in Sean/Dudebird's AD&D Wilderlands game). I just made that up, but as long as I'm going to publish the Planet Algol material I might as well have the enjoyment of having an rpg club publishing it (we actually do have an e-newsletter, "The Dome"). So yeah, upcoming Planet Algol material will be published by The Saucers and Sorcerers Society.

On that subject, the writing and assembling of the initial Planet Algol product "The Iridium Plateau" is coming along nicely. The peanut gallery has spoken and it will be available compiled in one booklet, although I plan on making the players section available as a separate item on Lulu as well as the regular version. I know some people have had difficulties with Lulu, so there will be another option to get print copies.

This booklet is looking to be 64-odd digest-sized pages when finalized. It will include a players section with a description of the Planet Algol setting, a gazetteer of the Iridium Plateau region, a selection of Planet Algol races and classes, some equipment, and suggested house-rules. The referees section will include a hexmap of the iridium plateau, 140+ brief descriptions of the contents of several of the hexes, a fully detailed city, some lair-dungeons, more information about the settlements of the Iridium Plateau, encounter tables, monsters, technological items, random tables, and perhaps some additional simple, optional genre-appropriate rules. It will feature illustrations by several talented artists, and I hope the quality of the artwork will be a pleasant surprise for those that acquire a copy.

Although the material is based upon my own AD&D campaign, it should come as a simple matter to use it with OD&D, B/ED&D and simulacrums. Aside from some of the wackier technological items, the material is being designed to be simple and stay close to classic D&D mechanics.

Similarly, the campaign setting described, Planet Algol, is detailed simply and broadly (although in lurid, clashing tones!) as a framework to use or plunder in a manner that is appropriate and fun for your game. If you are interested in the anthropology and history of fictional beings in a game-based world you will find that the Planet Algol setting gives you lots and lots of leeway in which to indulge your creativity!

My goal with this publication is twofold: firstly to provide a simple set of rules options to emulate a certain style of weird/pulpy adventure with traditional oldschool D&D rules, and secondly to provide a simple-yet-somewhat thoroughly detailed weird science fantasy setting for wilderness and site-based adventure that is usable "out of the box," like a sword & raygun version of "The Isle of Dread."

I do have plans for a couple of subsequent releases, one of which is "The Western Badlands," the next region of Planet Algol to be detailed. The other one is a collaboration with the talented artist & campaign participant Lester, something that many in the OSR have been clamoring for that we hope to accomplish with "out of the box" utility.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Alice in Algol-Land" and Child Adventurers

"This was my mental picture for Child Explorer.
Alice Liddell goes down the rabbit hole and ends up on Planet Algol (pictured after one day).
Drawn under the influence of the song "Spoilt Victorian Child" by the Fall."
- Lester/B. Portly

Despite the influence of Narnia, Oz and Wonderland upon the fantasy genre, the fantasy cliche of "precocious children in a magical world" seems severely under explored in RPGs.

The "young adult adventure fiction" I read in my youth was full of child detectives, child scientists, and ordinary children thrust into situations of adventure as well as multiple fantasy series' that dealt with ordinary children who stumble into the magic world, plus let us not forget "Harry Potter." Despite this, these established genres of fiction seems to be taboo in the RPG world.

I imagine one reason for the lack of child adventurers in fantasy gaming is an issue of "taste." Children killing sentient beings with swords or children being hacked to death with swords could strike many folks as being distasteful, which is understandable. When children go on adventures in fiction they often benefit from "plot immunity," something which is lacking in many RPGs (unless the referee is a "softball pitcher" and "dice fudger," which would be genre appropriate in this case), and it seems systems that give players some degree of "narrative control" would be appropriate for such a game.

There is the game "Little Fears," which is a horror game dealing with children and boogeymen, and apparently some people did find the first edition uncomfortable as it also dealt with the "real life horrors" that far too many children face. Although I'm unfamiliar with the Little Fears system, perhaps it's ruleset would be appropriate for emulating the "child adventurer" genre?

Many genre properties do have "child adventurer" characters, everything from contemporary epic high fantasy ("A Song of Fire and Ice" for one) to the sidekicks of Batman, Indiana Jones and the Road Warrior. I have also seen an AD&D adventure in an old issue of Dragon magazine that deals with a troop of Boy Scouts exploring a haunted house!

Although I would let a player utilize the "child adventurer" archetype in my own Planet Algol campaign, I do have misgivings about a fictional child being put into the fictional perilous situations of my campaign, which I guess shows how this can be an emotional and/or controversial subject for many.

More on "Grand Unified Theories" in Fantasy and Associated Musings

See the original post Here.

Further discussion on Grognardia Here.

So it turns out my musing on Grand Unified Theories and the Unknown in Fantasy has inspired some vigorous discussion, especially on Grognardia. A lot of interesting points were brought up, several of which touch upon other aspects of fantasy role playing, so I figured it would be worthwhile to continue the discussion.

Firsts of all, as a generalization, it seems to me that the Unknown/Grand Unified Theory divide represents a sea change in the fantasy genre. With exceptions, such a Middle Earth and Tekumel, most old time fantasy properties dealt with an unknown, nebulous world. When the Tolkein pastiches started becoming the Fantasy Status Quo (presumably in the early 80s) many of these setting had a "Grand Unified Theory" that explained the world and it's history, magic and metaphysics.

Now this isn't always a Bad Thing. Sometimes such efforts transcend the printed word and become sublime works that engender a sense of wonder and may even touch upon the big questions of reason, reality and philosophy. The Silmarillion is a great example of such works, and as one of the originators of this phenomenon it shouldn't be surprising that it stands head-and-shoulders above many of the imitators that followed.

However, I don't imagine Middle Earth to be a compelling venue for adventure. Sure, I could get down with some battling the forcers of Sauron and Morgoth while trying to protect the good people of Middle Earth. But it's all for naught and a pointless struggle, as the "physics" (metaphysics) of Middle Earth dictate that God/good will eventually triumph. Now, this is theologically sound of the Catholic professor Tolkein, but it doesn't motivate me to adventure in this world knowing that good will eventually triumph and that the world will become less magic and more mundane over time, until it is our world.

Another good example of a well-defined fantasy world is M.A.R. Barkers Tekumel. While Tekumel is a very detailed, with histories, languages, scripts, and cultures that have been developed for over half-a-century, as some have pointed out there are still "mysteries" in Tekumel. Although the history and world of Tekumel are detailed, we still don't know Tekumel's "Grand Unified Theory." How did the world get ripped into an extradimensional space? What are the gods and their relation to man? How does magic work? As far as I know, these questions have never been answered, and there are further mysteries, such as the Pylons and Silver Suits, that I find compelling. Plus it seems to me that there is a lot of elbow room in Tekumel's giant hexes for a referee to create his own version of the world.

In discussion about the topic many have brought up, rightfully so, that detail and history are not necessarily the enemy of Adventure! You can have a compelling campaign world with histories and known geography. But I think a distinction should be made about "over-defining" the world, especially when it comes to issues of destiny, fate and metaphysics.

History, geography, and so forth can always be fragmentary or contradictory, thereby engendering a sense of mystery. However, with metaphysics and fate, you may want avoid making the players feel like their characters are running in hamster wheels in the game of the gods. Being chained to fate and prophecy may be a good way of stretching out a series of fantasy novels over several volumes or exploring issues of free will and determinism, but I'm a free man and I resent being a playing piece in a chessgame being played by metaphysical forces. I'm sure many players enjoy having an epic part to play in the weave of history, and it's a motif that verges upon being the standard in modern fantasy, but it doesn't work for me. The adventures of Paul Mau'adib are a great read, but I wouldn't want to play him! And philosophically speaking, I do believe that humans gain and learn more by forging their own path through life than doing what is expected of or planned out for them.

Another issue brought up in discussions of "Grand Unified Theory" Fantasy is that it can be a Bad Thing as it can hinder "Collaborative Worldbuilding." In the interest of full disclosure, although I find collaborative worldbuilding creative and interesting and would be interested in participating in such a venture, when it comes to Planet Algol I'm an autocratic demiurge. Most of the campaign elements spring into my imagination as almost fully-realized "Platonic Forms," like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. Now they are generally not original ideas, being systhesis and distillation of the inspirations behind Planet Algol, but when I think about elements of the world, I find myself having a very firm idea of what they are.

Now this is partially an issue of "Ego Attachment" ("I have the Best ideas for this campaign world you ignorant peons!") , but there are other issues at stake. As one of the themes of Planet Algol is exploration of an irrational, largely unknown world and contending with it's hostile environments and situations, I'm generally not interested in using collaborative worldbuilding methods for the campaign. The characters are attempting to learn about and survive in this bizarre, weird world, and for the players to have any large degree of influence upon the nature of this world seems counterproductive. If the campaign had a different theme/tone, I do believe that collaborative worldbuilding could be appropriate and exciting, but it seems unsuitable for an old-school hexcrawl game and I have concerns about the impact that giving the players any great degree of "narrative control" about the nature of the world would have on the mystery/unknown nature of the world.

Out of the Forbidden Mist and into the Tower of Tazar, pt. 1

The Expeditionary Journal of Xarnagan Vrokk
Out of the Forbidden Mist and into the Tower of Tazar, pt. 1

Previous Entry found HERE

Buzz Brazelhatch - Australian Womanizer and Fighting-Man
Corporal "Radar" O'Reiley - Earth Man Rocketship Soldier
Dickie Dee - Bone Man Intoxicant Addict and Sorcerer
Kal-Mor the White Jackal - Hyperborean Bigot and Assassin
Kalervo - Cactoid Fighter
Monster Monagin - Earth Man Sailor and Bully
Rodan the Scrounger - Zermish Man Scavenger and Fighting-Man
Thragg the Skyman - Zermish Man Ornithopter Passenger and Fighting-Man
Xarnagan Vrokk - Haasht Man Fighting-Sage

Hobab - Lhoyg (piebald) Mountain Man and Guide
Vrroomish - Tikalg Man Dandy and Adventurer
Two Nguamodons - Pack Lizards

Well, I must say it fascinates me to know that after having gone through much trial and tribulation we must still argue over more simple ways of making some gold credits appear in our pouches. I have made the argument that in due haste we mine that precious prismatic ore near the Melted City and deliver it to my now good acquaintance, Tazar the Interlocutor; whom I am certainly sure will pay a handsome sum for what is undoubtedly a fine vein of Prismatic Ore of exceptional specimen. However, I should most likely make note of how I came to be here, in the Tower of Tazar, lazing about in the languid after-wafts of one of Dickie Dee's green cigars, a chemical brazier at my side, a good cup of warm tea in my teeth. Yes, I believe we left off with me wiping bird's blood from my hands...

With fresh hands, and a stale outlook, I do believe Dickie Dee and I sat by the fire that eve, staring up at the phosphorescent sky-glow of the distant Stain. There, up in the Bornite Mountains, we exchanged spells from each others tomes. An exciting book of spells, that man has; I intend to make as much use of it as a Sage can! Well, as we were, there in the Mountains, we were of course at the want to follow the hapless Hobab, still ever in search of the "Fallen Ship" now in search of a way out of these beautiful, but deadly mountains. Follow him in more circles we did, to natural results. I do believe someone once described the very definition of insanity as being repeatedly engaged in the same action, each time expecting different results. I do believe I was going slightly mad. However, if I do remember correctly, with some delicate prodding from Vroomish, Buzz Brazelhatch took the lead and did indeed take us somewhere unusual.

We walked all day, following Buzz, and came to find nestled in the multi-colored and pastel foothills, the cave nests of a tribe of Mutant Albino Crow beings. Upon first inspection, they seemed a decent place to stay. Albeit, I had mentioned to the party that they were un-natural caves, and most likely created by some primitive race of sorts. And, when we stepped into these bird warrens, I did happen to notice a few white feathers scattered about. ' Curious!' I thought upon first seeing them. However, in moments my curiosity was replaced by a strange indelible fear. The caverns echoed with a raucous cawing of "DOOM! DooOOM!" and we were suddenly aswarmed by an angry mob of bird men! Stamping their clawed feet to the dust, it was easy to see that they had spread the colored pastel chalk of the hills all over their white feathers, as to make each bird-man a unique blue, pink, or copper green. Very fashionable for such brutes. It is nice to see care taken to preserve some aspects of personal beauty even in the most wild and primitive of places!

I dare say, that in the battle that ensued, the pie-bald Hobab did finally take his leave from this dimension. At least in energetic form. His material remains could most likely now be found scattered about in various forms of putrescence, decay, and digestion. Yes, within seeming moments after Hobab's jugular and other arterial veins were being tossed about in beaks, Dickie Dee did indeed clack his abnormal and jutted jaw in that particular way. Suddenly, all about lay the bird-men, put to sleep by the infectious incantation of the Bone Man Dickie Dee. With our daggers out we set to work. Throats were slit, guts were split in hopes of treasure, and then camp was made. It was at this time, as I was placing on my sleeping cap and adjusting my bedroll, just after giving my monocle a good waxing, that two slimy, pig-baby-faced Vat Men arrived!

There they were, as we should have suspected, lumbering down the stairs, right into our camp inside the nest of the mutant crow-people. Yes, we had spotted them on our way down to the bird warrens wandering the far off cliffs, but they seemed insignificant roving pink blobs at that time. And at this time, I still considered them such. The party attacked with full bravado- after initially running away and attempting to use the pack lizards as meat sheilds. The Vat-Men pressed on, striking at the gnuamodons and causing them to bolt in fear. I too, ran to the other end of the cave towards Thragg and the pack-lizards. Looking back over my shoulder I saw lasers being fired, giant bronze colored axes scraping through flesh, and my party members screaming in agony. It was at this moment I decided to grab a gnuamodon pack lizard and head for the hills... er, well, valley as it was. Yes, I remembered how difficult it was to kill one vat-man, let alone the idea of slaying two. I surmised, perhaps, the party would follow me out of the nest of the bird people (where I was certain lurked ever more of them) and away from the two mindless, rapidly self-healing, constructs.

I had time, there, huddled amongst the flora at the base of the chalky cliffs, to indeed resolve a riddle. Why had the Vat-Men, from the secret laboratory of the Elder race of snake priests, come all this way? It was simple: the Vat-Men were after the obelisk and the other treasures taken from the strange laboratory. I would resolve to keep this to myself. After all, a sage must keep such things as items of historical value a top priority. Especially if he deems they will look good on a mantle or shelf in a future manse. Many moments later while dreaming of a subterranean addition to said future manse, I heard the scrambling of a man down the hillside. Dickie Dee himself had taken leave of the situation and was running towards me, jaw flapping, fire and fear in his eyes, with a spitting chemical lantern swinging as he bounded toward the safety of the scrub. Soon the others followed. By others, I mean, Thragg the skyman, his conical helmet bouncing as he jump-slid down the cliff side. Behind him I could hear the echoing moans of the Vat-Men being pecked to death by more of the mutant crows. I knew there would be more! Where there's feathers, theirs flocks!

I was then made aware of the situation that had passed. Prior to Thragg and Dickie's flight, Kal-Mor had been heard screaming to death down a dark tunnel- perhaps rousing another nest, Kalervo the Cactoid had fallen by the blade of the bronze axe, metal-nosed Radar and our brash leader Buzz were hacked to death by a rusty Vat-Man blade, and Vroomish, his needle pistol firing whirring blast after blast, had gone down last-man-standing in order for Dickie and Thragg to escape. Tragic. I was just happy we had the gnuamodons with our powerful Elder race possessions happily tucked away.

We decided to lay low, and return in the morning, seeking scraps of survivors. At dawn, we cautiously went back to the caves. Lying there, still as a dead thing can, was Kalervo- naught else; not a scrap, nay a shard. Dickie Dee at that time, heaved a slow sigh while he pulled from his pouch the Eye of Restoring Life and using it, brought Kalervo back from the realms of the aether. Seeing no use of hanging about to get pecked to death by the remaining tribe of mutant crows we set out. Quickly, following the revived and robust cactoid, we made our way out of the cursed and twisted foothills of the Bornites and into the desert sands. Kalervo, a smile on his spiney face as the sun and sand struck at it, bellowed he saw something in the distance. I say that cactoid certainly has a nack for finding his way through seemingly any terrain. With the faint outline of a structure in the distance, we suddenly found ourselves on our way to the Great Dome of the Desert...

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Question About Your Preferences and Gaming Goodness Courtesy of B. Portly

At some point in the new year I'm planning on publishing Planet Algol material in booklet form. It will include the setting information; the player information (classes, races, houserules, etc.); and the referee information such as hexmaps, encounters & locations, monsters, treasures, and so forth. They will be digest sized and will have information from this blog and the referees resources blog, but edited, revised and expanded, as well as entirely new content.

If you are interested in such a publication or similar products, would you prefer that it be contained in one single volume or split into two booklets, one with the players' information and one with the referees' information?

As well, Planet Algol campaign participant & artiste Lester/B. Portly provides us with am optimized version of the purple Unofficial Planet Algol Character Sheet available here. Still no smoking brazier I'm afraid...

Lester also made the below table. Originally a result of 8 was "girl-child," I changed it to child on account of all Earth boys romping about in Narnia. Maybe I should have a random encounter with a small group of dejected early 20th-century british children on my tables...

Earth Man Explorer Table (d8)
1 - Astronaut - Could be from any time and flung through space and time.
2 - Sailor or Pilot - Whether shipwrecked or plane crashed, they find themselves on Planet Algol.
3 - Pioneer - Traveler in the new world. Includes Vikings, Mountain Men, Conquistadors, Voyageurs, etc.
4 - Soldier - Could be cavalry officer transported from earth or a trench fighter that wanders into mustard gas.
5 - Professor - Time travelers or those those that study altered states of consciousness.
6 - Occultist - Those that dabble in ancient esoteric ritual or eldritch rites.
7 - Dreamer - Men who's imagination is so prodigious, the may enter different realms.
8 - Child - Characters like Alice or Dorothy transported, from pastoral settings to a bizarre world.

A Character Survival Guide

I'm going to do something unusual and post from the other side of the DM's screen today. The topic today is survival. How to manipulate the odds so that your character has a decent chance of survival. Now if your DM is consistently pitching softballs at you while you trundle along the railroad, this advice may still be of use and may even allow you to take some measure of control over the situation. This is all stuff I've picked up playing D&D games and all of the disastrous encounters I've had to contend with.

#1 - No Backup Weapon, No Ranged Weapon, No Light Source, No Means Of Igniting Said Light Source, No Future!

Unless you've got one of those aforementioned softball pitching DMs, there is a simple method of ascertaining which members of a beginning 1st-level party are likely to die first.If someone doesn't have a second melee weapon; a ranged weapon with an adequate supply of missiles; no light source and/or no means of igniting said light source, they are going to be among the first to die. They may not necessarily die because they don't have those items (although that is a possibility), instead it's a symptom. Such types tend to be the characters that automatically charge superior forces or practice kleptomania while in the town that is the party's staging area. Although it is always pretty damn funny when someone dies because they went on an expedition into a giant underground labyrinth without thinking to bring a tinderbox and torch. The necessity of food and water is situational, but you'd be surprised how many folks go out into the wilderness without enough food.

#2 - Always Have An Escape Route And Always Be Willing to Cut Bait And Run (Before Things Go South)

This should be common sense, but in practice it's often painfully not practiced. Never start an engagement with a foe without a viable escape route. If possible work out an escape plan before the battle. Save spells and magic items for escaping an engagement. Once things looks like they may go bad, immediately begin an orderly withdrawal of the party. If some hothead ignores the withdrawal leave him to his fate. If one of your buddies if being cut to pieces and rescue looks unlikely, leave him to his fate. There's always the chance you can ransom or rescue him or recover his body. Always make sure someone in the party is slower than you. In AD&D I love banded mail, although it has an armor class of 4 compared to 3 for plate, you have a movement rate of 9" in it instead of 6" in plate. My banded mail armored fighter will be running away while Johnny Platemail is getting eaten by a Tyrannosaur.

#3 - Surviving A Battle Is Easier Without Democracy

You know how military forces or swat teams always have a clearly defined leader who gives order that the team follows? They do that because it works. Whomever has the best tactical sense in the party should be made into the "Battle Leader." If the party has a leader or a face that isn't tactically acute, well they still can be the leader, but the Battle Leader should be deferred to in combat situations. The party has a far better chance of survival with someone in charge. If someone doesn't want to get with the program and puts themselves in peril as a result see #2 above.

#4 - Upgrade Your Tactical Skillset

This especially applies to "Battle Leaders." Tactics work, learn them. Sun Tzu's The Ancient Art of War, computer wargames, Counterstrike, Chess, Paintball, Hockey, Guerrilla Warfare, what have you. There are many ways of learning tactics, which tend to be generally applicable in conflict situations, if you pay attention you can learn a lot. There's a ton of useful practical knowledge about controlling the battlefield and mitigating asymmetrical situations embedded in such subjects. Choose the battlefield, let the enemy come to you, attack the invulnerable foe where it is weakest, commit reverse mental torture upon your foes.

The above advice may be too much or inapplicable for some player's/groups, you may just want to have fun and bash some orc skulls in. You may be only fighting "balanced encounters." Obviously if you're not interested in subjects such as tactics it can be kind of pointless to study them in order to play a hobby game better. But if you want to be a better D&D player or if you're finding your party being overwhelmed by your foes, this stuff will help you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Others Saying It Better Than I Could "Playing Chicken With The Players"

"I want to present you all today with an important GMing Law: You can play a game of "chicken" with your players if that's what they want, but you can't lose it..."
As a Player I have to say that I find the experience of having to fight smart and hard, and to struggle to have a shred of a chance of survival on occasion, far more rewarding than knowing that the party could take anything they came across.

Besides, if you put Godzilla in your sandbox, and the party of 1st level characters decide to go hunt down and kill Godzilla, then those poor, dead, dumb bastards got exactly what they had coming to them.

"Unofficial" Character Sheets and More Artwork

The esteemable Lester/B. Portly took it upon himself to craft a Planet Algol Character Sheet with a border he believes was in an old Clark Ashton Smith anthology. Although they are certainly "unofficial," feel free to avail yourselves of Lester's effort. It's digest sized, and the purple version (1.4 MB) is available Here and the black & white version (300 KB) Here. Although designed to fold in half in order to create a folder, one could easily print it one both sides of a sheet of paper and then cut it in half, creating two double-sided sheets.

I also have some more artwork by Planet Algol campaign participants to share, previews of what you can expect in the first Planet Algol booklet(s). I'm sure many of you will recognize the below tableaux as a homage to a certain beloved artist; two different renditions of three "magic-users" (a Sage, a Sorcerer and a Mind Wizard) squabbling over a table of arcane relics. The top image is by Wesley/Fat Cotton and the lower one is by Lester/B. Portly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Don't Like Grand Unified Theories in Fantasy

I'm sure we're all aware of the phenomenon in fantasy franchises of "Grand Unified Theories." Usually prologues, appendices, wise characters, and so forth provide the exposition, usually along the lines of:
"88,000 thousand years ago the universe split into two halves, Kerishala the bright aspect and Valkalka the dark aspect. They worked together to make the world but quarreled thereby engendering a whole bunch of history. History.. history.. history... Magic is the lifesblood of Kerishala and Valkalka flowing through the matter of the world. Yadda Yadda Yaddaa... Prophecy this, Prophecy That."
Of course the protagonist(s) are tied up with all this business, as well as the plot of the next three or thirteen books. And there's detailed large-scale and small-scale maps, sometimes of the entirety of known civilization!

Although this can be done well, I consider The Silmarillion to be a sublime example of such efforts; usually I hate that shit. Many contemporary fantasy rpg settings lay out the history of the world, who/what the gods are, how magic works, and so forth-- often in excruciating detail. I do consider Gary Gygax's Aerth setting to be an exception, as it is a good fantasy setting that deals with a "known world," but it is also more of a late renaissance/age-of-sail setting, so it works in that context. Plus the Epic of Aerth book could have been significantly shorter.

Fantasy at its most primal deals in the Unknown. The world is a collision between the logical and the illogical. Incomprehensible forces are at play. In old school pulp fantasy, the default setting was a world in which only fragments of history were known, where magic and the gods were mysteries; where the world was largely unmapped and unknown.

It's hard to reconcile that weird, unknown fantasy vibe when the universe has a known history and a heavy internal logic.

With Planet Algol I don't know what the gods are. I don't know how magic works. I don't know the history of the planet aside from broad strokes. I don't have a map of the planet. I don't even know what year it is on Earth. Although one could learn details about specific elements and their history, the whole and history of Planet Algol is unknowable, as well as illogical and irrational.

Now for some Nifelheim:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"That Cactus Lady Has a Nice Rump on Her" & Doom Metal Tuesday

Courtesy of Wesley/Fat Cotton & his partner in crime R. Ruddock, a pair of Cactoids of Planet Algol. Also, here's some Doom Metal:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Musing on New Character Classes (and Encounter Critical)

I decided to incorporate the Houri, from White Dwarf #13, as a character class in my campaign. One of the motivations was in order to "Encounter Critical-ize" my game, with Houri being the Doxy equivalent.

Sitting down with my copy of Encounter Critical I checked through the classes: Warrior equals Fighting-Man; Psi Witch equals Mind Wizard; Pioneer equals ...?

Time to make a new class...the Explorer! A Planet Algol AD&D version of the Encounter Critical Pioneer.

Now I don't use the Ranger in my game (although the Cactoid R.C.C. is based on the Ranger), and I'd rather my Explorers not be tough-as-nails hardasses.

The Explorer's Prime Requisites are Intelligence & Wisdom, and they gain a 10% experience bonus if both are 16 or higher.

The Explorers has hit dice, attacks and saves of a Cleric of the same level (Explorers are good at not getting poisoned!). On Planet Algol any character class can use any weapon, however for a standard D&D game they can use any one-handed melee weapons and any ranged weapons. They are usually limited to leather and other armors that don't reduce their movement rate (including magic armor), although they will encumbering protective gear that is necessary for certain extremely hostile environments such as space suits, etc. They don't use shields.

The Explorer has the Explore, Provide and Tame abilities of the Encounter Critical Pioneer as well as a couple of skills (Consume Alien, Monster Friend, etc.). For skill calculations use Wisdom for Adaptation.

Although some skills & Pioneer abilities may seem goofy/over the top, I think a savvy DM can see serious gaming potential in these abilities! I could see the Tame ability also being used on sentient beings, as the explorer has the natural ability to get a "native" guide or sidekick!

Experience is as a cleric. They can learn languages faster than others and can learn a new language very level.

One thing I like about having an Explorer class is that it provides an archetypal role for Earth Man characters exploring an alien world. Another archetypal role is the scientist. Although the sage has knowledge abilities, he also has some sorcerous mojo going on, and his knowledge base is "Algol-ized" and specialized on fields of knowledge.

The Scientist class I'm working on is basically on the Scientist class from the X-Plorers RPG. Although some of it's abilities are somewhat vague, I'm a roll-with-the-simple-rules DM who can make it up on the fly. I'd like to make some allowances of sage-esque "fields of knowledge," and reverse the d20 DC checks for their abilities to Thief-style % checks, but it does pretty much out of the box. Hit dice, saves, attacks, and experience required as a thief. Weapons and armor as an Explorer. Intelligence is the prime requisite.

This Brings the List of Official Planet Algol Campaign Character Classes Up to 10 Classes:
Cactoid (race/class)
Fighting-Man (fighter)
Houri (race/class)
Mind Wizard
Sorcerer (magic-user)

Which is, disregarding Bards, the number of classes in the 1st edition AD&D Players Handbook, perfect!

Planet Algol Music - the Ritual Chantings and Mutterings of Bestial Sorcerer-Priests...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Languages - Planet Algol Common

Algol Common - A synthetic language created by one of the civilizations of the Ancients.

Algol Common is responsible for the "Ur-Language" hypothesis espoused by some Earth Men scholars. Algol Common was engineered for the human brain, and has "linguistic virus" properties with true humans such as Earth Men and Algol Men. This allows such true humans to learn Algol Common rapidly when immersed in an environment of it's speakers or when someone is teaching it to the subject in a period ranging from hours to weeks depending on the subject's intelligence; but usually taking a week for one of average intelligence.

Algol Common can be learned and spoken by nonhuman and semi-human beings, but in such cases it takes half of the normal period of time to learn; Algol Common was designed to be easily learned but was engineered for true human brains. Many nonhuman species, especially inhuman individuals or those possessing limited intellects, are only able to capable of using simple words and concepts when communicating in Algol Common, and such creatures prefer using their own languages.

Algol Common is spoken almost universally by Algol Men, aside from pocket exceptions of extremely isolated or isolationist societies, and many nonhumans know it as well, making it the language of trade and diplomacy planet wide. Although one of the races of the Ancients created Algol Common, it does not seem to have been widely used by the civilizations of the Ancients, although exceptions are found. However, there are assorted specialized and secret languages utilized by Algol Men as well.

Technological Artifact - Flexfield Generator Belt

A remnant of the technological sophistication of the Ancients, a Flexfield Generator Belt consists of a bulky rectangular box mounted on an adjustable belt of linked alloy plates. A toggle switch on the box turns it on and off.

When turned on a Flexfield Generator Belt projects a flexible force field around the wearer, which provides a bonus, which is often variable, to armor class, as well as saving throws against area effects, energy attacks, and so forth. On many generators the toggle switch allows the wearer to adjust the defensive value of the force field. They are powered by Radiation Crystals, which hold 100 charges. One charge is drained per "plus" of the force field setting per round.

If you are using the weapon versus armor type attack roll adjustments rule, any positive modifier to an attack roll versus the wearer of an active Flexfield Generator Belt is negated due to the "slickness" of the flexfield.

Flexfields are vulnerable to energy attacks, such as lasers, phasic weapons, and so forth, and behave unpredictably when struck by them. The flexfield armor class and saving throw bonuses do not apply when attacked by energy weapons. Whenever an active flexfield is struck by an energy weapon roll on the below table:

d6 Result
1 The flexfield generator self destructs and the wearer takes triple damage from the energy attack.
2 The flexfield generator's energy crystal is drained of all of it's charges and the wearer takes double damage from the energy attack.
3-5 The flexfield wearer takes additional damage equal to one point of damage per defensive plus that the generator is set to per die of damage the energy weapon inflicts.
6 The energy weapon used to attack the flexfield explodes, inflicting as much damage as an attack by the weapon multiplied by a factor ranging from 1 to 3, dependent on a 1d3 roll. The radiation crystal, or other power source, in the energy weapon is destroyed.

Use the below table to determine the possible defensive settings of a Flexfield Generator Belt:
d12 Defensive Value Settings
1-4 +1 only
5-8 +1 to +2
7-9 +1 to +3
10-11 +1 to +4
12 +1 to +5

Note: Obviously inspired by Frank Herbert's Dune.

Vampires of Planet Algol

The Vampires of Planet Algol are the undead remnants of one of the extinct races of the Ancients, composed of an empire of necromancers obsessed with immortality who drained blood and life-force for access to dark powers and prolonged lifespans.

Male and female Vampires are very different in appearance; although both genders have black, membranous wings growing out of their shoulder blades, sharp, elongated canine teeth, and curving claws for nails.

Male Vampires are generally hideous. Most are stooped, hunched or twisted. They have pale skin that ranges from mottled grays to slick, unwholesome fish-belly white or blue. They are hairless, with long, pointed ears and feral, predatory faces. Although most are thin and wiry, some are bloated and obese.

Female Vampires are usually beautiful, with well proportioned and slender to voluptuous bodies. Their skin ranges from golden and light brown to ivory or pale blue tones. Their long, sleek tresses range from ebony to fiery reds.

All true Vampires are the remaining survivors of the Ancient vampiric civilization, they are unable to reproduce but many possess the knowledge of how to create vampiric servitors from captives, cadavers or flesh-vats.

They dwell in isolated vaults, strongholds, crypts or caverns, usually singly or in small groups, with minions to bring them captives to feed upon and attend to their whims. Most are accomplished Sorcerers, or less frequently Mind Wizards; although Vampire Assassins, Fighting-Men and even Sages have existed.

Chapter 11, Part 4: "Furious Adventure in the City!"

Buzz Brazelhach - Rowdy, Hearty and Lusty Australian Adventurer
Corporal Radar O' Reiley - Earth Man Rocketship-Soldier, Former Crewmate of Moon Martin

Kalervo - Cactoid
Nigel Nightbringer - British Man-at-Arms
Rodan the Scrounger - Zermish (Green) Man Fighting-Man and Scavenger
Thibodeaux - 1850s' Nevada Alien Abductee, Cousin of Jedediah
Xarnagan Vrokk - Haasht Man Fighting-Sage

Part I Here, Part II Here, Part III Here.

The companions take advantage of Vrroomish's generous arrangement with the proprietor of the Bronze Engine and lounge in it's comfortable environs for a week while they recover from the fatigue and injuries incurred in their adventures.

Xarnagan keeps pestering the party with a pushy barrage regarding a mining expedition to the deposit of Prismatic Ore that was discovered in the Prismatic Wastes. On ornithback it would be a fairly short journey and when they adventurers start getting bored and restless they set out on their steeds, mining gear strapped to their saddles. Moon Martin and Vrroomish take their leave of the party for this expedition as Vrroomish expresses uncertainty regarding his desire to continue adventuring after his experience with death and Moon Martin has been treated in a most unfriendly fashion by several of the companions.

By noon they have crossed the Great Span, arrived at Agog City, and are traveling through it to the western gate when Buzz notices the suggestive nature of the sculpture that adorns the signage on a luxurious villa, "The Lurking Serpent." When Buzz opens the door and peers inside, he suspicions regarding it being a bordello are confirmed. He immediately calls a halt to their travels for the days.

While some partake of the pleasures of the Lurking Serpent, others find less decadent entertainment. Xarnagan Vrokk travels to the Sages Hive, a towering, irregular edifice of ancient hexagonal beige resin, containing a multitude of similarly hexagonal cells that houses a sprawling hive of sages, scholars, savants, libraries and laboratories. He consults with the Sage-Bureaucrats that guard access to the facilities of the Hive. Inquiring about access to the archives regarding Artifacts>Ancients>Mechanisms>Power Sources>Radiation Crystals and the usage of a workshop-laboratory equipped with the specified tools and implements, he negotiates a fee of 200 gold credits per day.

Some spend the night at the Lurking Serpent, while others dine, drink and sleep at the nearby hotel, the Flagrant Whore. The next morning, while the party gathers for a breakfast of slig meat with fried pupae and pickled roots, Xarangan proposes that some other members of the party help bankroll his research into how to determine the charges remaining in a Radiation Crystal, the nearly universal power source of technological artifacts of the Ancients.

Rodan the Scrounger, who has a sleek laser pistol of the Ancients and has no idea how many laser beams it has remaining agrees to help fund teh research, which Xarnagan estimates could take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks.

While others shop, lounge, drink, gamble, womanize, and so forth, Xarnagan toils away in musty, chemical smelling beige resin hexagonal cells deep in the innards of the Sages Hive. He emerges nine days later, bearing a delicate device of prisms and orcihalcum wiring that resembles an elegant set of calipers. The Radiation Crystal from Rodan the Scrounger's laser pistol is inserted into it's contacts, Xarnagan examines the colors displayed in the prisms, and announces that it has enough energy remaining for fifty-six more laser blasts.

The party resolves to continue their expedition to the Prismatic Waste to mine valuable Prismatic Ore. As it may involve much rigorous labor in the hot wastelands, they decide to try and hire some fighting-men, as miners that can defend themselves from the mutants, bandits and monsters seem prudent.

No mercenaries are interested in such work, explaining that they prefer safer assignations such as guarding manors or caravans, although one explains that slave-warriors would be better suited for such a task.

As the party is currently heavy with gold and valuable crystals they go to the slave markets. They find that no fighting-slaves are available, and when asked the slaver explains that no unskilled men are available either. The slave market supply has almost run dry as they are awaiting resupply from slaver caravans, but that he has thirty-three child-servant slaves available and one conditioned Lizardoid bodyguard-slave.

The prices for the child-slaves are fairly cheap while the Lizardoid costs fifteen-thousand credits. Some debate the merits of having a perfectly-conditioned inhuman bodyguard, but the price is too high. The decision is made to buy out the slaver's supply of child-slaves and use them to harvest and haul the ore.

The British Tower of London Guard Nigel Nightbreaker reacts with outrage to the proposal and angrily shouts it down despite accusations of hypocrisy from the Australian and American Earth Men in the party. Despite his empire's history of slave and child labor, he finds the idea repulsive and browbeats the companions into dropping their plans to utilize child-slave-miners.

The party reluctantly resign themselves to doing all the hard work of mining the ore in the Prismatic Wastes and hauling it back to civilization and they begin assembling supplies and loading it on their orniths.