Category Archives: Role Play

ESSAYS IN GAME DESIGN – Essay Three: Where Has All The Magic Gone?

ESSAYS IN GAME DESIGN

Essay Three: Where Has All The Magic Gone?

Why don’t they make Magic Items like they used to?

I was looking through my AD&D books tonight and noticed how versatile and multi-functional so many of the magic items were.

They were powerful, and they were odd, and fascinating, and most important of all a lot of them could do all kinds of things.

By comparison so many of the magic items of more recent editions are bland, plain, uninspired, and uninspiring. It’s like using a piece of technology from the eighties or something. The items are overly specialized, technical, usually limited to one specific function, top-heavy in design and capabilities. A drag to own and use and usually good only for specific encounter types.

Older magic items were magical. They had so many functions they seemed like a modern mini-computer/cell phone/PDA/wristwatch/GPS/tricorder all in one. Impressive and extremely useful. Versatile. Fluid. A joy to own and use, employable in a wide range of circumstances. They were the Renaissance Men of Miracles, the Polymaths of Magic. And in addition most were mysterious. You had to figure them out as you went along. They could always have extra, hidden potential that you’d never know about til you screwed around with just the right thing and accidentally tripped some concealed latch. And you had Artifacts, and Incredible Devices, and Relics, with strange legends and ancient lore surrounding them. They weren’t just treasure types, they were items of real magic.

(In a purely imaginative sense, of course, but then again freeing the imagination, and being able to free the imagination, is a type of magic. Being enslaved to limited, prescribed, and proscribed function, technique, or technology is not magic. It is in many ways the very opposite of magic.)

We need to get back to that in modern fantasy games.

It made fantasy gaming fun instead of a technical exercise in weaponry calibres and target types.

Magic should have some, “Boy, now you’re really gonna see something!” to it, instead of “how many rounds ya got in that wand and what is the total count of damage points inflicted by it? I’m trying to calculate exactly how long this combat will last.”

Also,  magic used to be truly weird and fantastically dangerous.  To everyone including the Wizard employing it. Nowadays, and far too often it is merely a form of binary technology, on/off. And very rare is it for it to ever even fail.

So, where has all the magic gone?

It’s basically gone to hell with the idea that magic is about power shots and ammo counts rather than about mystery and wonder.

Somebody needs to dig some real magic up out of the grave and see if they can put a resurrection spell on it…

Endnote: I actually tend to think, that as far as game design goes, and even as regards gameplay to a certain extent, that the situation of “magicless magic” has actually improved considerably. Especially as regards Dungeons and Dragons and many of the related fantasy type games and role playing games. However, and against this general state of “magical improvement” has come the counter-tendency to reduce magic to a mere secondary or substitute form of technology as is far too often the case in literature, films, and video games. So I posted this essay anyway to remind game designers (even video game designers), DMs and GMS, and even players that they can be pursuing, even demanding real magic in their games, and by that I mean weird, strange, truly dangerous, multi-functional, and unpredictable magic that is anything but yet another substitute, secondary, or typical human technology. 

 

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RULER OF KINGS

THE WYRDROAD

THE WYRDROAD

By the way, I’ve mentioned this before but I have a new Facebook Gaming page up. It reflects the interests of this blog and you are welcome to go there and join and then participate and make your own posts.

Here is the Address: Wyrdroad

WYRDROAD

I have established a new Facebook Gaming Group.

I haven’t had much time to build up the membership yet because I’ve been busy but I have tried to build up some interesting content. The primary interest of the group is gaming, but like this blog it will cover history, archeology, warfare, science, technology, fantasy and science fiction, literature, pop culture, comics, etc.

You’re welcome to visit and to join. Just hit the links provided.

WYRDROAD

 

NornsOld4

CAERKARA – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

In keeping with what I said over the weekend about beginning to once again post my own Works (as per this Post) here is my entry for Design of Things to Come, though it is one day early due to later work week scheduling conflicts.

Also I have now corrected all my former entries in The Other World so that they now properly show in that category, as they should. Later I will begin reposting my Essays on Gaming and Game Design.

So here you go, the Introduction to The Caerkara, or The Expeditionary Force

 

________________________________________

 

Introduction to The Caerkara

When the Eldeven folk began to realize that monsters were being accidentally created through the use of Elturgy (Arcane Magic) they began to track down and capture many of these monsters and isolate them in various places where they could be studied and hopefully cured. However the alterations caused by exposure to (especially) high level Elturgy seemed irreversible.

Eventually the Eldevens also realized that Elturgy itself seemed to be “mutating” some of their own kind, as well as other creatures, into monsters, or the Caladeem. Many at the Court of Samarkand came to understand that some of these monsters were completely rogue and out of control and could not be held or captured, that once transformed certain monsters would have to be killed due to their new and vicious nature. The Eldevens in Samarkand formed secret teams of “monster hunters” that traveled throughout the Known World (and sometimes to places in their world beyond their explored knowledge) to capture or kill monsters. At the same time the Samareül began a project that lasted for many decades that attempted to “repair” elturgy so that it no longer created monsters. But the deterioration only seemed to increase and worsen and no means was discovered to return Elturgy to a reliably benign state of operation.

Some monster hunter teams soon discovered that monsters were disappearing right before capture. The reason was a mystery until it was discovered that these monsters were fleeing to another world, through means unknown. The Samareül put his best Sages and Elturgists upon the problem and eventually the Drüidect was discovered, which allowed travel between their world and Terra, though the means by which “the Weirding Road” operates is still a mystery.

The Samareül formed a secret and elite team of Monster Hunters to go to Terra and either recover or kill the monsters that had escaped to that world. While there agents of this team met human beings and discovered human ideas about religion as well as information about Miracles (Thaumaturgy). When this team returned home and reported on their findings the Samareül decided that these events were not coincidental at all but fated, and that Thaumaturgy, God, and religion might just be the long sought answer to either repairing or replacing the troubled nature of Elturgy.

Since then the Samareül has been carefully studying humans, their society, religion, thaumaturgy, God, and other related matters. He has sent his elite Expeditionary Team into Terra on numerous occasions. Ostensibly it is the job of this team to hunt down and capture or kill the escaped monsters from their world, but secretly this team also studies humans, religion, thaumaturgy, etc. and gather intelligence to return to the Samareül for further study and research. This secret team or Expeditionary Force is called the Caerkara. Over the course of their expeditions to Terra they have spent much time in the Byzantine Empire (where many of the odd events affecting both worlds, as well as the escaped monsters, seem to tend to congregate) and humans have become aware of their existence, though not their true nature and point of origin. They have also become uneasy allies on occasion with the Basilegate, and as a result of this interaction a relationship has developed between the Court at Constantinople and the Court at Samarkand.

JUST TO LET YOU KNOW

I will soon be returning to blogging and posting about my own game worlds and milieus, my novels (in this case regarding my fantasy/mythological, my sci-fi, and detective novels mostly), my essays on gaming, the games I have designed and written, TSS scenarios, GPADs, my start-ups that are game related, my Vadding expeditions and urban exploration, and all of my other personal creations, enterprises, and Work.

Recently I have been much too busy with both business and personal matters to post about my own creations. But things have calmed now and that’s about to change.

So from now on I will be posting at least once a week about my own creations and designs. This I will do mostly on the weekends, but if you are a follower of this blog then you will know as soon as it happens.

Have a good weekend folks.

GRAVEYARD ENCOUNTERS

10 Graveyard Encounters

A collection of graveyard encounters, adventure seeds, and half-baked thoughts…

1. The group stumbles upon a cemetery with tombstones a quarter of the standard size. Engraved on the tombstones are names like Kitty, Tiger, Max, etc. Half the grave soil has been disturbed as if something dug its way out. A meow can be heard in the distance as dozens of undead cats prowl the perimeter of their resting ground.

2. There are numerous mausoleums spread throughout the graveyard. Each one has four gargoyles leering at each of its roof corners. Anyone who crosses the shadow of any of the perched gargoyles will have the shadow come alive and attack. Once slain that gargoyle will no longer cast a shadow.

3. You encounter an elderly man who is digging up a grave. If questioned he tells you that he recently had a dream where his dead wife was calling for him to rescue her.

4. A young girl scream pierces through the cemetery. She is running frantically and crying for help. She and her partner came to the cemetery to make out when decaying arms rose up from the ground and dragged her lover beneath the surface. All that remains is a broken picnic basket, a shredded blanket, and a used sheepskin.

5. You cross paths with a half dozen gravediggers. Their cart is filled with dozens of bodies. Half of them deceased, the other half clinging to life. They tell you the other half will be dead soon enough and there is no point in waiting for the inevitable.

6. As you pass by a gravestone you hear scratching and clawing coming from the ground. The soil begins to break apart and you faintly hear mumbling asking for assistance. A few moments later a ghoulish man in victorian dress and a top hat pull himself out. He believes he is awfully late for a dinner engagement and ask your were Wilson Pub is.

7. A cemetery with a hundred gravestones and 12′ tall memorial plinth in the center. Once a living being enters the cemetery the dead begin to rise from their graves. Wave upon wave of zombies attack. Once a zombie is slain it will reanimate 1 hour later. The plinth in the center of the cemetery has the name of every person buried here. Only by crossing out their names will they stay dead.

8. You stumble upon a gravestone with a square glass in the center of it. Next to the glass are two dials. With the right combination on the dials or a successful disable trap check you are able to speak with the person who’s grave this belongs to. Their image will appear in the square glass and will gladly answer questions.

9. You enter into a graveyard and suddenly realize that the exit is no longer there. As far as the eye can see appears to be an endless rows of tombstones. You quickly realize that all gravestones bear the same name. Only by putting that soul to rest can you escape this distorted reality.

10. In a long abandoned cemetery you meet a farmer planting seeds on the burial plots. He claims that the dead are wonderful fertilizer and the crop yield has remnants of their past memories.

FORE AND AFT, PORT AND STARBOARD

Useful for a wide range of Naval Adventures and Campaigns.

June 23, 2016

Mark S. Cookman

     This is another post following our nautical theme and it includes one of my oldest tables. The table is a simple one and is honestly little more than a nautical vocabulary list, but it was the result of a hard won lesson. My hope is to help novice GM’s learn this lesson in a less painful manner than I did. Let me tell you a story.

     It is the late ’80’s and I am in college. I have a job and am a full time (15 credit hours) student of organic chemistry with a B average. For some reason, I believe that I can also have a social life and maintain this status (BTW, I could NOT.) so I also play various RPG’s. Currently, I am the GM for a game of Flashing Blades, for which I had prepared a murder mystery in a roadhouse type of adventure. Because I was an inexperienced GM, I allowed the PC’s, a group of rich and powerful French nobles, to purchase a ship and set sail away from my adventure.

     At the time though, I thought that I was in control of things. I believed that I could just adapt the adventure to occur on the boat during its trip to the New World. At the time, I didn’t want to make my players unhappy by telling them no. It was a dreadful mistake. The copious notes that I had on the roadhouse and its occupants were now basically garbage. I could salvage some names and other stuff, but that was it. I wasn’t going to say, “I’m sorry guys, but I just don’t really have anything prepared.” The group seemed excited to be on a boat, so I thought I could just go with the flow. The adventure went wrong from the very beginning because I wasn’t able to just say, “The ship will take at least a day to prepare to sail. You will need to spend the night in the inn.”

     It was truly a disaster of a gaming session. I knew less than half of what I needed to know to run a good adventure. I knew the name of the murder victims and how they were killed. I knew who (what actually because it was a shape-shifting demon) the murderer was and how the PC’s had to kill it. I did not, however, have a map of a ship (or even a good idea of what places there were on a ship), nor did I know what crew positions the murdered people filled. When the players began to ask completely reasonable questions, I couldn’t answer them at all. I had spent 3 hours earlier in the week preparing for the roadhouse adventure and yet our session fell apart because I wasn’t prepared to answer some simple questions about the setting, which was now a ship. The group was forgiving, but I had let them down. I started learning things about ships for our next session and today’s list comes from some of that research. Here are 20 Positions on a Ship Besides the Captain. Happy Gaming!

  1. Quartermaster

  2. Sailmaster

  3. Navigator

  4. Bosun

  5. Gunnery Master

  6. Carpenter

  7. Gunner

  8. Common Sailor

  9. Cook

  10. Loblolly Boy

  11. Cabin Boy

  12. Powder Monkey

  13. Shanty Man

  14. The Lookout

  15. First Mate

  16. Officer of the Watch

  17. Ship’s Pilot

  18. Coxswain

  19. Sailmaker

  20. Cartographer

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES – ALL THING

Very, very nice… from Ed

My 6-Year-Old Designed A Dungeon, And It’s Terrifying

Well met, adventurers! Today I am going to do something you have not seen me do before. Something bizarre and unexpected. I am going to gush about my kid. I had meant to write this prior to Father’s Day weekend, but things here at BardCo have become somewhat hectic, what with school letting out for the summer, sports programs beginning, and new multimedia ventures coming to fruition. Suffice to say, this is a little late, but still retains much of its potency.

There are two things you should know about me. The first is that I am a fan of the old Gygaxian dungeon crawls of yore, with its pitfalls and terrors beyond reckoning. They were punishments disguised as fun, and damn it if he didn’t accomplish both. Never have I had so much fun being rent asunder or crushed to death, or boiled alive, or having my soul torn out or… well, you get the picture.

The second thing your should know about me is that my young son has a strong desire to play D&D or Pathfinder. He can’t decide which cover art is cooler. He likes to play with the minis I have on hand, set up my terrain, draw maps on my dry erase flip mat, and tell a story. Sometimes he even asks to use my dungeon master screen for reasons that are unknown but undoubtedly sinister.

If was a few months ago that he asked me if he could “Make a dungeon” for my weekly group.  I gave a wry chuckle and found myself filled with something I believe to be a mix of pride and amusement. I gave him the go-ahead, handed him a Monster Manual and a Bestiary, a couple magic markers, and a boat load of minis, and he went about his dark work. What he created still gives me pause. It would have been an act of pure cruelty and insidious design.

And it was good.

I’ve given the map he gave me the digital upgrade, as the only remaining picture I have of it (aside from the one seared into my mind’s eye), is blurry as all-get-the-funk-out. I will detail each room of this two level horror show.

The Tomb Of Xandarr, The Cruel
 The first thing you may note about the “Tomb” is that it is a little oddly shaped. The triangles, rectangles, squares, and ovals (all shapes easily recognizable to a Kindergartener) that are connected together by a series of strangely-shaped hallways. But when you really take a look at it, a couple things become apparent.
First, the rooms aren’t the typical square rooms we’re used to in dungeons, leading someone who has no idea the whole thing was designed by a 6-year-old to believe that the entire complex was created by a madman with some issues. The rooms are chaotic, adhering to no symmetry or even consistency. There is no sense of familiarity between rooms since they vary in size and shape with each new chamber. This puts characters on the defensive, never knowing what each room might hold. Granted, this should be the normal state of mind for every character going into a dungeon.
Secondly, those hallways. If you are playing with players who get paranoid easily, these halls are nightmares. Bizarre angles and narrow passages make for an almost claustrophobic setting. Without realizing it, my wee geekling is playing a psychological game with the players, putting them through their paces and tearing away any semblance of peace.
Now, let’s get into Level 1
Section 1 – Orc Encampment: “A crooked and jagged hallway of jutting stones zigs and zags its way toward a mostly rectangular chamber. Grunts from the eastern wall signal that the room is occupied. Half a dozen burly orcs rise from a sitting position gripping cruel axes.”
The dungeon begins with a pretty straight forward fight between the characters and a band of orcs camping in the room. I say camping because that is what my son explicitly said they were doing. In my “Game Master must justify everything” brain, I reasoned the orcs were about to enter the dungeon and made camp in this empty and defensible first room to regain their strength for the path ahead.
For most characters who enter this room, this battle should be a breeze. Since I figure the average party should be about level 8 to take on the bulk of the dungeon, six orcs is a pittance. Still, with good tactics and focused fire, the orcs could still pose a problem, especially if the retreat down the hall in the north end of the room, which would bottleneck the players.
Section 2 – The Pit of Mummies: “This oval, domed, stone chamber is mostly empty. The walls are bare and there are not sconces for torches. The only thing of import seems to be a single, simple stone sarcophagus sitting in the center of the room. Small cracks run the length of the dust-covered floor like a spider web.”
Most dungeons will place their boss at the end. My 6-year-old says “To hell with conformity” and sticks that sonnova bitch in room 2! But he was not content with a simple boss fight. No. He wanted a boss fight with a trap. He wanted a boss fight in a trap! The stone sarcophagus sits in the center of a fragile circle. If a character spends more than two rounds on the surface of the circle, if two stand on it at once, or if two characters pass over it one at a time, the floor will give way into a 40-foot free fall onto a spiked floor. That’s a little rough, especially considering on top of the spikes you are also taking bludgeoning damage from the falling rocks.
But wait! There’s more!
Once the sarcophagus breaks after the fall, it reanimates the mummy lord within. This is Xandarr, and he doesn’t take kindly to being woken up. When I asked my progeny what kind of magic spells he had, he simply said, “Ones that make characters fall down so when they fall down they fall on spikes.”
That’s actually kind of evil. So, here is the scenario. If the floor collapses (because the encounter is actually entirely avoidable), any poor bastards that find themselves on the floor need to make dexterity or reflex saving throws. Anyone that screws the pooch ends up at the bottom of a 40-foot deep pit of spikes fighting a mummy lord that can put them back on those spikes with a wave of his hand.
 “Are you my mummy?”
Did I mention the second mummy down here? Oh yeah. Impaled on one of the spikes is yet another mummy. Granted, this is just your run of the mill mummy, but damn! That just ups the chances of the poor characters stuck in the pit to get a fun case of mummy rot (still sounds like an STD).
What’s more, the rest of the characters would be stuck up above, trying to find something to attach  a rope to, of which there is nothing. Melee characters would either have to traverse the rope and hope the mummy lord isn’t leveling spells at them or jump and deal with the spiky goodness. Those that choose the rope are looking at a 2-3 round commitment since the  average climb speed is 15-feet, and the pit is more than twice that.
The walls of the pit are flat and smooth (not to mention round, so no corners to shimmy up), making climbing out without assistance a virtual nightmare as far as difficulty is concerned (and failure meaning another trip to spike town).
On the plus side, the mummy lord is carrying an amulet that can make your skin as tough as stone, so hooray for loot. On the downside, the mummy lord is wearing said amulet, and would be foolish not to use it.
Evil, evil child.
 “There is nothing more precious than the laughter of a child.”
Section 3 – Trapped Hallway: “The door opens to a 25-foot long hallway. The hallway stretches off into a straight line, but there seems to be a five-foot deep, 10-foot long recess on the eastern side. Seven stone tiles make up the floor, each emitting a clicking sound when stepped upon. A stone door stands at the far end of the hall.”
My kid loves Minecraft. Moreover, he loves pressure plates and making them do things. This is a simple hallway, but a very complicated hallway at the same time. Immediately, a canny rogue is going to realize that every single inch of floor is a pressure plate. This makes the rogue’s job so much more difficult. Not to mention that recess. What is that? What even is that? Is it a trap?
Oddly enough, no. It’s just the shape of the hall. The mean part comes when an unfortunate character stands in front of the door leading out of the hall. Should they fail to disarm the trap, or if they step on the pressure plate before the door, that entire 10-foot section of wall on the eastern side of the door springs forward and crushes anyone standing there.
 “Holy broken bones, Batman!”
It’s sort of a fake-out. A trap fake out. The recess screams “look at me!” when it’s the stationary wall that is the killer aspect here. I am both proud and afraid on the kiddo.
Section 4 – Go Ahead. Touch It: “This triangular room is lit with a pair of torches on the northeastern and northwestern  walls. The torches burn with a sickly blue flame that casts the chamber in a ghostly light. A small pedestal stands at the apex of the triangle. Atop it rests a smooth violet jewel that size of a child’s fist. There is a pair of stone doors on the eastern wall.”
“What’s in this room?” I asked my son as he drew the funny triangle.
“A stone.” he replied matter-of-factly, “It’s purple. If you touch it it automatically steals your soul.” he continued, drawing a tiny stone in the room.
That’s right, the ultimate game of “I dare you to touch it.” The danger in this room is easily bypassed. Just walk on out. But that gem. That gem is likely to get someone into trouble. Let’ss face it, we all know that one player that can’t talk past a shiny red button without pressing it. Even if the button had a “Do not touch the red button” sign hanging over it, they would still have to push it, just to know what happens. Hell, more than one of us has been that character at one point or another.
“Touch not, lest ye be touched.”
The punishment for greed or curiosity is the loss of your soul. No save. Yeah, I made sure to ask him about that, but he insisted that it was automatic.
I asked, “Why?”
“Because they touched it.”
Can’t argue with that.
Section 5 – Dragonfire Pass: “This curved hallway has intricate carvings of dragons set into the stone walls. The doorways on the west and south are carved into the shape of dragon’s jaws. A strange and pungent odor fills the air here, leaving a sort of haze. The ground is wet, with a shimmering purple film seeping in between tiles and cracks.”
When I told my son about a dungeon I’d created where a bunch of kobolds lit everyone on fire with flammable liquid on the floor (such are out dinner conversations), his eyes grew wide and he couldn’t help but tell his grandmother, and anyone else who would listen. It was, I think, cool to him.
So cool, in fact, that he wanted to do something like it in his dungeon. The hall, as he told me, had dragon heads near the doors. The center of the hall marks the trigger for a burning hands spell to erupt from the dragon heads on both ends, and set the oil-soaked floor ablaze.
  “It’s a disco inferno.”
Sweet. Simple. Barbeque characters. Even if they didn’t get a soul stolen, the hall can easily become a serious pain in the ass, especially for those bringing up the rear. What’s worse is that the door at the end of the hall is locked. How good is your rogue? Picking a lock while burning to death good?
Section 6 – Treasure Room: “The door opens revealing a large rectangular room with heaps of gold coins and overflowing chests of treasure. The room is lit by torches in each corner. The flickering firelight dances upon each glinting bobble. An iron door stands against the south wall.”
Treasure! Who doesn’t love treasure? And there are piles of it here. Coins, gems, magic weapons, and armor. Everything an adventurer could want. But apparently, I have raised the kind of child that doesn’t let anything come too easily. I blame years of telling him to clean his room.
Something lives in the piles of treasure. Well, lives may not be the word. A pair of dread wraiths haul ass out of the coins like a demonically possessed Scrooge McDuck. Dread Wraiths, as I am sure you know, are not kind creatures. My son equally so. With a plethora of enemies at his disposal, he hand picked the wraiths because, of course, they looked cool.
 “Rule of cool.”
Section 7 – The False Exit: “The iron door opens to a long hallway with a simple wooden door at the end. Hanging over the door is a small sign that says ‘EXIT’. The walls of this hall are bare.”
The characters beat the bad guys, got the treasure, and managed to live. Now it is time to get out and  enjoy the spoils. Except, this isn’t an actual entrance. That wooden door leads to nothing. The hall, on the other hand, does lead somewhere, and it’s nowhere good.
The hall, according to my spawn, is like a seesaw. If more than one character heads to the door, the weight will tilt the entire floor, effectively turning the hall into a massive chute. A chute to where?
Well… Nightmareville, basically.
Room 8 – Arena With Two WHATS?!: “The chute leads to what looks like a large arena with a dirt floor. Empty seats encircle the arena, void of spectators. Two large creatures hover above the ground. They have massive, fanged mouths with a sickeningly huge, singular eye. A number of stocks jut from this monstrous floating head, each with an eye of its own.”
 “Eye see what you did there.”
 I had to ask him three times to be sure. He was sure. Not only had he taken the notion of escape from the players, he pitted them up against not one, but two beholders, or as he called it, “The monster on the front of the book.”
“No. Just no.”
The fight is pretty straightforward, or at least as straightforward as a fight with two beholders can be. All the characters need to do is defeat them and they can get out. According to my son, the door only opens when both are dead.
I don’t think everyone will be getting out of this one alive.
“Kids these days.”
There we are. Short, simple, brutal. I should be making some comment about child-like innocence, but honestly, after that… I think he might be pure evil.
The kid has a promising future as a Game Master.
Roll well, my friends,

+Ed The Bard 

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS TO ADVENTURES, CAMPAIGNS, AND QUESTS

Below are to be found descriptions and entries I have created regarding unusual ways to begin Adventures, Campaigns, and Quests for various kinds of Role Playing and Tabletop Games.

Though they could also be used as the basis and genesis of other types of games as well, for example LARPS and Alternative Reality games.

I intend to provide beginning scenarios for various types and genres of games: Contemporary, Detective, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Science Fiction, and Wargames. To name a few.

I will make such posts on every occasion I have the free time to develop them. Also these scenarios will be different from the scenarios I have developed specifically for my own Setting and World. Those will be listed separately under the Category – The Other World

Feel free to take the names of places and characters mentioned in these scenarios (or even the basic structures of the scenarios) and alter them to fit your own gaming worlds or situations. These are, of course, merely suggestions. I describe these scenarios to give DMs and GMs far better, more original and more unique methods of starting games than, “your party meets in a tavern,” or “you all hear a rumor.”

So modify and use these beginning scenarios as you will. They are meant to stimulate original situations and your imaginations, not to dictate terms and conditions.

Tonight I will begin with Four Fantasy Scenarios for beginning adventures or campaigns: Infiltration of the Fertilands, The Secret Missionaries, The Sky From Long Ago, and The Long Road to Disaster.

 

FANTASY

 

Infiltration of the Fertilands – The Senate of Alaria has decided to clear an area of land 7 and ½ leagues north of the city-state (an area called the Losharian fertilands) to provide timber and resources for a proclaimed public works building project, and to establish a new frontier’s garrison and outpost for the city to ward off raiding attacks by local barbarians. However three separate surveying teams and their armed recon in force escorts (at least for the second and third attempts) have disappeared when sent to the location.

The Senate has decided to send an expeditionary force of 1500 men to investigate and clear the area of potential hostiles, but before they can vote on the measure or dispatch the forces the chief architect in charge of the new building program approaches your party and asks you to undertake the task of infiltrating the target area in secret, to see if you can discover the cause of the disappearance of the previous teams. You are charged with secrecy in your mission (you can discuss it with no one) and if you are successful the architect not only promises that you will be richly rewarded in pay but that the Senate will award you tax free lands on which you may establish estates and villas of your own. He also hints at the possibility of awards (Champion of the City), public acclaim, and possibly even junior seats on the Senate.

However since the mission would be kept entirely confidential he can offer you no initial assistance other than to provide you with information on how to find the Losharian fertilands.

But he does offer you two pieces of advice. First, do not drink the waters of the fertiland even if it is rainwater which falls during a storm. And secondly, watch the rivers, creeks, waterways, and marshes at all times. They may hide dangerous enemies and hidden perils.

 

The Secret Missionaries – Your party is called to the Great Temple of the Sacred Hierophants after nightfall one evening. The Church of Adaltorn, the Last Hierophant, in the city of Ramara Passea has decided upon a missionary program of expansion Eastwards. They wish to convert the rich, independent merchant cities east of the river Venwaldros, which they feel would be very open to their doctrine. However to the south of the narrow strip of unclaimed no-man’s land of the Venwaldros lies the fierce (and some say cannibalistic) barbarian tribes of the Colmar Confederacy, and to the north of the river in this unclaimed area lies the Imperial outposts of the Srechalt. All of which are hostile to both the Church and to Ramara Passea. This narrow strip of land and the thin thread of the Venwaldros which passes through it is called Reedbrake (for its high and musical reeds, which go silent when anything passes through them)) and it is the only safe passage from Ramara Passea to the East.

The church has sent scouting teams of monks and priests along the river which have either had to turn back after being attacked or were simply lost, their true fates unknown.

The church is willing to produce an indulgence in the names of each of your party (meaning you will be free from both local taxes and tithes for a period of ten years), to pay you a stipend for three years, to Bless each member of your party, and to secure you Writs of Absolute Non-Hindrance from the city fathers if you can help them find a safe passage through the Reedbrake so that their monks and priests may travel securely and unmolested from Ramara Passea to the eastern merchant cities. They will also equip your expedition and provide you with river-craft, a barbarian scout (a recent convert) familiar with the Colmar, and three warrior monks as servants and men at arms to assist you.

 

The Sky From Long Ago – The retired Sage Geirwovan (rumored to have once been the famous Wizard Taleorstir) has sent every member of your party a formal and very decorative invitation to visit his mansion six miles from the outskirts of the Ulorian borderlands.

When you accept and reach your destination you are shown to the Sage’s Tower and observatory where the ancient and bent Geirwovan greets you warmly and feeds and shelters your entire party. After a late dinner and entertainment by a very talented female bard (whom Geirwovan identifies as his personal Bard, the Lady Yurliel) you are ushered back to the Sage’s Tower where Geirwovan accompanies you to the roof. Briefly after sunset (far too soon after sunset) the entire sky is afire with stars but of very unusual constellations that you have never before seen. Some of these constellations seem to come alive, take on weird and fantastical shapes of creatures you have never seen before, and to move about and even battle one another. Stars flare and flash, changing colors or becoming briefly too bright to look upon. The moon rings like a giant gong. The tower itself seems to shake. Comets flash across the sky and explode by impacting one another. Then the entire sky goes absolutely black and a few moments after that returns to normal, as it would appear on any other cloudless and moonless night shortly after nightfall.

Geirwovan then takes you back into the tower where each of you feels weird and uncanny, as if you have just witnessed something unnatural, supernatural, and/or very spectacular and unnerving.

Geirwovan makes no comment and ignores all questions to explain and instead spreads out a series of complex maps upon an antique drafting table and begins to explain how rewarding it would be and how much you would all benefit by reaching a particular destination. One he repeatedly shows on the different maps. (The maps are also all filled with odd glyphs and scripts and indicated locales you have never heard of or seen mentioned before.)

Then Geirwovan tells you of the fabulous riches, both mundane and magical, that can be found at that destination though he will not describe the particulars nor disclose any details about what else may lay at the destination. He tells you that if you will go to that location then you will understand what he means and that you will understand what you saw in the sky. He asks only two things: 1. that when you arrive you do what is appropriate, and 2. return to him all that you find so that he may examine it and then he will keep only one article, a small silver coin of unremarkable design. You may keep all else that you find and there will also be another reward awaiting you upon completion of your expedition. If you agree then he will hand you one of the maps which he says will guide you unerringly to your destination but that you must never venture from the route it dictates for the map is untrustworthy otherwise and you may find yourselves lost in such a way that you will be unable to return. He also offers to allow you to take his bard Yurliel with you if you so wish.

 

The Long Road to Disaster – The Lord of Merchants and Commander of the Merchants at Arms have called your party to the Tent of Foreign Prizes in the Agora of Kroipos to discuss an urgent matter. They explain to you that they have recently (within the past year) opened up a new trade route to the Far South, through the desert of Samorah, that they call the Elidian Road. (Elidia being what some rumors declare to be a semi-mythical and legendary city of peculiar and unique wealth located in the Far South.)

Within the past six months no fewer than four separate and well-armed caravan trains have been ambushed and destroyed or lost. By what the Commander describes as a well-organized, large, ruthless band of experienced brigands, raiders, and thieves.

Searchers and follow up teams have only recovered small bits of debris or valueless remains from the ambushed caravans and the losses to merchants in the area have been sunstantial and heavy indeed. Armed scouting parties sent by the city have discovered nothing and have been of almost no help.

Only three survivors have escaped thus far, two from one caravan (the first attacked) and one from the second caravan. No other survivors have surfaced or are accounted for.

Both the Lord of Merchants and the Commander of Arms ask if you will entertain shadowing the next caravan to be dispatched along the Elidian Road to see if you can discover who is responsible for these raids and possibly help save the caravan from being plundered and destroyed. If not can you then follow the attackers to discover their identities and base of operations so that a military force can be dispatched to kill them all.

Neither wants you to be part of the armed military and merchant force of the caravan so that if the attackers arrive in overwhelming force you may survive and bring back invaluable Intel on the parties responsible. They only want you shadowing the caravan unless it is obvious you could actually safely protect and rescue the caravan if it is attacked. Both Merchants promise you will be richly rewarded for your efforts. Though neither will describe precisely how or in what form.

After the meeting the Commander of the Merchant at Arms leaves but the Lord of Merchants pulls your party aside in confidence and tells you that his nephew will be accompanying this caravan in order that he may be trained in commerce. As is the custom at his age. This being his Voyage of Initiation. The boy has instructions that if the caravan is attacked he is to flee to the safety of your group or if necessary you are to rescue him and flee after discovering what you can of the enemy. He promises to reward you separately for this action and he tells you that aside from his nephew and the head merchant of the caravan no one in the group will even know of your existence or that you shadow the train. So he says it is imperative that the caravan not discover your presence either. You must also never mention this side deal involving his nephew. Especially not to the Commander at Arms, who would consider such actions cowardly and dishonorable.

He also tells you that he has personally interviewed the three survivors of the previous attacks. One is now dead of unknown reasons, one is in a long sleep from which they will not awaken (coma), and one appears to be mad. But before these things happened the survivors described weird things occurring during the attacks and despite the Commander’s opinions to the contrary the Lord of Merchants is not at all convinced this is the work of brigands or caravan raiders. In fact he says that he does not believe any raiders are involved at all. But he will not elaborate on his suspicions.

He will only say that he once read a passage in a book in the Far South that said that long ago the skies were poisoned by an unknown creature so that ghosts and dead men rained upon the living.

 

Also, feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments below, or tell me if you’d like to see Beginning Scenarios for certain types of games,  particular subject matters, or for specific gaming genres.

KITS GALORE – LOST LIBRARY

THE KITS AND THE KITS AND THE KITS

You know, it makes an awful lotta sense that, especially in the early stages of their career, and in a world in which such things were common, there would develop pre-designed “kits” for various professions. Just as existed for soldiers.

Of course such kits would vary by race certainly, likely by geographic region (terrain, weather patterns, availability to water and shelter, limes and outpost proximity, etc.), and perhaps even by nationality or economic strength or technological capability or even just by preferred design modes. Or by such factors as item or material availability.

And absolutely such kits would vary with experience and exposure. My gear and equipment kits and carries have changed considerably over time as I have learned what gear is likely to be needed, what is likely never to be needed, what is truly useful, as equipment designs have changed, as far better tools and multi-tools have developed. And in certain situations I know I will need certain kits and stocks, and in other situations I will need different kits and tools, though overlap almost always occurs with some items. (You will always need a lighter, always need binocs, always need a knife, etc.) And I have encouraged both my players (and those I have known in real life) to develop their own kits specific to their own experiences and professions and to develop complimentary kits so that people in a team avoid redundancy or over-burdening themselves to no real point. (If one or two guys carry a hatchet then not every team member need do so as long as they do indeed work as a team and remain cohesive. One machete a team is usually sufficient, but everyone carries water and a knife.)

But this is, if you ask me, as excellent idea (and I know previous versions of different games have toyed with similar ideas in other forms), basic starter kits for various professions (not just tool sets) followed by highly individualized and special function kits as one gains experience.

(For instance a Ranger’s Urban Kit, used while tracking an assassin in a city would be quite different from his Wilderness Kit while tracking foreign raiders involved in frontier skirmishes. Money would likely be plentiful in an urban kit to pay bribes and develop informant networks, money is practically useless on the frontier.)

So you could have all kinds of Kits, such as General Profession Kits (Combatant Starter Kits, Magic User Starter Kits), down to Class Kits (Paladin’s Kit and Barbarian’s Kit) to Special Function Kits (Urban versus Wilderness Kits) to Highly Specialized Specific Mission Kits of the very experienced Adventurer and Team Member and even all the way down to the Sole or Single Operative who might act as an Undercover Operative, an Agent, or a Spy.

Then again you could have Special Gear and Special Weapon Kits designed for very refined purposes, such as thieves tools, medical and first aid kits, field chemical kits, firestarting kits, business kits, inscribing kits, disguise kits, instrument kits, weapon kits, even kits to be used against specific opponents (tactical kits).

Kits like this (of all kinds and of different levels of complexity) would be extremely useful. Especially Emergency Kits deposited at known locales, at dead-drops, and at safe houses to be recovered as needed.

THE TOMBS OF THE WHISPERING WORMS – LOST LIBRARY

THE TOMBS OF THE WHISPERING WORMS

Not my work but I fund the idea to be very interesting… see title link for .pdf download

 

VALENTIA – LOST LIBRARY

VALENTIA

I have downloaded and begun examining this gaming system. Although in my own system I do retain some character class system, and have invented others, I also have a parallel system that is very similar to this one. As a matter of fact several things about this system are similar to my own, such as the Virtues.

So, overall, and initially, I have a very favorable opinion of this gaming system. It seems a little overly-complicated to me in sections but that may just be an initial presumption.

That being said, however, from what I can tell so far it is an extremely well thought out and well written gaming system and set of mechanics.

It’s in beta and free to download. I did so and recommend that you do so as well if you are interested and wish to examine the game and it’s design approach to Role Play.

You can simply follow the title link in this post or go here for the available downloads:

Valentia Downloads

 

turning-criticism-into-creation

By the way this sounds very much like the line of reasoning that was the basis for developing my own Role Play system of gaming. Though I also came out of a wargaming background (like Gygax, only I was younger) and had much interest in better representing combat on both the large (large group, strategic, wargaming) and small (small team, tactical, personal) scales.

20 Things to Loot from the Wizard’s Body

20 Things to Loot from the Wizard’s Body

During the course of their adventures, our heroes are likely to slay many evil wizards (and loot their bodies).

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

Sadly, most such individuals seem to never carry anything beyond a spell component pouch, a few magic items and some loose coinage. Not only is this boring it’s also utterly lacking in verisimilitude—after all, everyone carries odds and ends in their pockets. Use the table below, to generate such items of minor interest and make looting the body of a slain wizard much more interesting!

  1. An amulet comprising a single, yellowed dragon’s tooth suspended from a leather thong. A rune for protection is carved into the tooth.
  2. A small flask of powered silver (worth 50 gp). The leather flask itself has a small strap allowing it to be carried over the shoulder.
  3. A silver dagger concealed is concealed in one of the wizard’s boots. The dagger is clearly unused—its blade is sharp and polished to a high sheen.
  4. A silver bracelet from which hang a number of charms. Each is decorated with a single rune—fire, water, air, earth, dragon, devil, demon—among them. The whole thing is worth 75 gp.
  5. A leather scroll tube crudely painted bright blue. It is stoppered with a leather bung that clips into the place. The bung has been painted red.
  6. These fine leather boots have a number of small, unobtrusive pockets hidden inside. Most of the pockets hold commonly available spell components, but two hold a single platinum coin.
  7. This plain scroll tube contains several pieces of parchment the wizard used to make observations of the stars. These comprise several complicated diagrams of various constellations and cryptic notes regarding “the wanderer.”
  8. The torn and scorched cover of “Agananzar’s Workbook” is wrapped in cloth and hidden in the wizard’s pack. Sadly nothing else of the book’s contents remains.
  9. A pouch contains a variety of small bones—probably finger bones—clearly “harvested” from a variety of different creatures. Each is in pristine condition—all the skin having been boiled away.
  10. Three empty potion vials; one is marked “invisibility” while the other two smell slightly of cinnamon.
  11. A locket holding a lock of coarse black hair. It is evident from the hair’s texture—and the slight smell of rotten eggs—the hair is not from a natural source.
  12. A dozen small semi-circular stones worn perfectly smooth. An esoteric rune—depicting various types of magic—adorns each stone.
  13. A slender belt pouch specially treated to be waterproof. Inside the pouch, the wizard stored a variety of dried herbs. Each bunch is tied together with twine.
  14. The shattered stub of a wooden stake. Black blood covers the stake’s tip. Barely visible under the blood is some kind of rune, but its meaning is impossible to determine as part of it is missing.
  15. Three quills wrapped in an ink-stained cloth and two small vials of ink—red and black—all carried in a small pouch along with several scraps of crumpled parchment.
  16. A bent iron spike, the head of a hammer and a shard of incredibly tough stone.
  17. A black velvet cloth inlaid with golden thread wrapped around a dried and perfectly preserved red rose. The rose’s thorns are yet sharp and its flower emits a particular heady scent.
  18. A small treatise depicting the various protective circles—against good, evil and so on—along with notes on how to quickly create such protective barriers. A perceptive reader skilled in spellcraft spots several of the diagrams are fatally flawed.
  19. A flask of holy water and a flask of unholy water—both clearly labelled in Elven—along with a fine painter’s brush, two owlbear feathers and one gigantic feather (perhaps from a roc or other huge bird).
  20. A small red velvet pouch. The pouch is all but empty—however a determined examination reveals a few flecks of diamond dust stuck to the pouch’s lining.

ARSOGINSERL’S APOTROEV: THE TERROR TROVE

ARSOGINSERL’S APOTROEV

So I’ve been working on some other things in my spare time while not working on my novel The Old Man for NaNoWriMo. One of those things is I have been continuing with design work upon The Perfect Dungeon (working title).

One of the ideas I had this week was for the Terror Trove. (That’s the working term – it is a sort of obverse image of the Treasure Hoard as I’ll explain in a moment.)

The Terror Trove originated as a secret mountainous cave area in the wet-desert just outside the main ancient city ruins around which the Perfect Dungeon story primarily revolves.

A man who was both a powerful Cleric and a powerful Wizard decided that he would take it upon himself to seek to discover and “hoard” every evil artefact and relic he could locate.

His original intention was to construct an “Apotroev” (a reverse treasure hoard – one that was magically and physically separated from our world and one that could never again be plundered) so powerful and so carefully hermetically sealed that the powerful items he placed there would be in effect forever cut off from and removed from the rest of the world. Thereby sealed away, never to be discovered or employed as a threat again these items were magically exiled from the world since the Cleric Wizard (named Arsoginserl, though also sometimes called Insarl the Illuminare) could find no method of destroying most of these things.

Arsoginserl’s Apotroev” worked very well for centuries after his death, but eventually, due to earthquakes and due to the fact that some of these artefacts and relics were so powerful they began to consume and absorb one another the Apotroev weakened. The evil and magic in them thus multiplied many times in power and force effectively “irradiating evil and magic out into the surrounding world” just as a shielded bunker designed to store radioactive waste might leak if damaged or overwhelmed.

Eventually this was one of the reasons that led to the demise of the original and ancient city of Pesharan.

Anyway Arsoginserl’s Apotroev will be one of the potential sandbox areas attached to the Perfect Dungeon (which is actually a campaign series) if the players want to seek to find and explore it.

However by this point, nearly a millennium after it was originally populated and sealed most of the items have been consumed by the more powerful artefacts and relics and the “survivors” are at war with each other. All of the survivors are by this time either artificially intelligent or sentient or inhabited by evil spirits, or all of the above. And all of these surviving “items” desire to escape back into the wider world. Making them incredibly cunning and dangerous and desperate. Even exposure to the still sealed Apotroev itself has powerful, malignant, and long lasting side effects upon anyone approaching it.

Also buried in the Apotroev, in a secret compartment never discovered by even the most powerful artefacts and relics trapped there, are a number of preserved relics from Arsoginserl himself, such as his robe, his mitre, his crooked staff, his Roseheart, a book of Arsoginserl’s prophecies, a book of his personally created spells (otherwise unknown), his Communion Rod, other valuables, and the Benegemm (an experimental gemstone Arsoginserl himself had created with the help of an angelic ally) with which he hoped to one day cure evil and nullify evil magic. No one knows how far Arsoginserl got in the development and perfection of the Benegemm but it was reputed to have many marvelous capabilities and properties (even if it was still unable to cure evil) by the one account that ever mentioned it. Such as soft-burying and freeing the souls of certain undead creatures. Or encouraging certain criminals to take up a monastic or religious life. Or even to become a Cleric.

The story of the Benegemm is supposedly indirectly related to the famous tale of the thief Tarand Moirloss who later converted from his life of crime and became the famous Cleric Larlfast Urlinger. Moirloss accidentally touched the Benegemm hoping to examine it for potential value and was immediately struck “dead” for seven days. Moirloss recovered in his tomb chamber and was able to dig his way around the setting stone of his tomb and escape his premature grave. Moirloss then sought out Arsoginserl who gave him the legendary Seven Penances of Supernal Peril to complete after which Moirloss converted and was renamed Larlfast Urlinger the Upright. Urlinger is the same cleric often credited with having created the “quill of the thrice inscribed god.”

Though some say that Urlinger became a wandering Cleric-Wizard like his mentor and abbot Arsoginserl, and that the quill was actually constructed by another, a Sage and Hermit named Ramonil the Righteous.

http://nanowrimo.org/forums/all-ages-coffee-house/threads/270499

11 BETTER

11 ways to be a better roleplayer, the Safe for Work version

This is the “safe” version of the 11 ways text with all the rude bits removed if you want to share it with someone who’s upset by profanity.The original rude version, complete with swear words, is available here.

ONE. Do stuff.
Job One for you as a player is to do stuff; you should be thinking, at all times – “What are my goals? And what can I do to achieve them?” You are the stars of a very personal universe, and you are not going to get anywhere by sitting on your butt and waiting for adventure to come and knock on your door.
Investigate stuff. Ask questions. Follow leads. No-one needs you to point out that this is an obvious plot thread while you do it. Mix up scenes, talk to people, get up in their grill. If you’re not playing the sort of character that would do such a thing, find something you can affect, and affect it.
If you keep finding yourself pushed to the back of scenes and twiddling your thumbs – why is such a boring character hanging around with the sort of people that Get Stuff Done?
Be active, not passive. If you learn nothing else from this article, bloody learn this.

TWO. Realise that your character does not exist outside of the things you have said.
You can write as many pages of backstory as you like, mate, but they don’t factor in one bit to the game unless you show them happening. Are you a shrewd businessman? Cool. Do some business, shrewdly, in front of everyone else. Are you a hot jazz saxophonist? Play the saxophone. Are you a wild elf struggling through social interactions with civilised people? Struggle through those interactions! Don’t go off and sit in a tree!
This ties back into the first point, really; you only exist through your actions. It is not the responsibility of other players to read your backstory, and their characters cannot read minds. Well. Some of them can, but you know what I mean. They shouldn’t have to.
So display your talents, your traits, your weaknesses, your connections. Take every opportunity to show, and not tell, the other people at the table what your character is about.

THREE. Don’t try to stop things.
Negating another player’s actions is fairly useless play; it takes two possible story-changing elements and whacks them against each other so hard that neither of them works. For example, your fighter wants to punch some jerk, but your monk’s against it, so he grabs the fighter’s hand. In game terms, nothing’s happened. All you’ve done is waste time, and we don’t have infinite supplies of that.
Instead, go with the flow. Build. If the fighter wants to break someone’s nose, what happens after that? Does your monk rush to help the jerk up? To admonish the fighter? To apologise to the jerk’s friends, before shit really kicks off? To save the fighter in the big brawl that ensues, even though he was going against your will? Or to throw the biggest guy in the tavern right at him, to really teach him a lesson? Those are all examples of interesting stories. Stopping him from doing anything whatsoever isn’t.
Don’t negate, extrapolate. (See, that rhymes, so it’s easier to remember)

FOUR. Take full control of your character.
“My character wouldn’t do that” is a boring excuse, a massive NO to the game’s story on a fundamental level. It’s a point-blank refusal to participate.
Instead of being bound by pre-conceived notions of what your character would and would not do, embrace complications and do it, but try to work out why. Why is your Rogue doing this mission for the church? Does he have ulterior motives? Is it out of a sense of companionship with the rest of the party? Characters in uncomfortable situations are the meat and drink of drama.
(Do you remember that great story about that hobbit who told Gandalf to go away, and sat at home picking his hairy toes all day before his entire village was swallowed up by the armies of darkness? No. No you bloody don’t. So put on your backpack and get out there, Frodo)
If you keep finding yourself having to explain your actions, or not wanting to go along with group decisions because of your character’s motives… well, maybe your character’s motives are wrong. They’re not written in stone. The group’s the thing, not your snowflake character, and if they’re not working, drop them off at the next village and maybe try playing someone more open to new ideas. Maybe work with the group to build a character that fits in.
Your character is part of the story; this is not your character’s story.

FIVE. Don’t harm other players.
Oh ho, here’s a jolly thief that nicks stuff from the other party members! And their Sleight of Hand roll is so high that no-one will ever notice! Gosh, what a jape.
No-one likes that guy. (That guy generally plays Kender, and I am fully of the opinion that Kender should be promptly genocided out of all RPGs. I don’t think genocide is a crime if we’re talking about Kender.) If you steal from other players, you are exerting power over them in a really messy, underhanded sort of way. If they find out, what are they going to do? Are you going to force them to escalate? Is it fair if they kill you for it? Is that fun for them?
Similarly, attacking other players is awful, too. I’m okay with this where systems fully support and encourage this, of course – something like Paranoia or Dogs in the Vineyard – but, hey, give it a rest. I am hard-pressed to think of a way where such a thing improves the game; if your group is fine with it, discuss it beforehand. But keep me out of it.
There are a whole load of things out there to steal from and beat up and kill that won’t get offended when you do it to them, so go bother them first.

SIX. Know the system, don’t be a jerk about it.
If you know a system, you are easier to GM for, because you know your character’s limitations. You can calculate the rough odds of a particular action succeeding or failing, just like in real life. You can make prompt assessments of situations and act accordingly, because you understand the rules of the world.
(New players, of course, get a free pass on this one. But do make an effort to learn the rules, obviously, if you’re keen on sticking around in the hobby.)
But for the love of God, don’t rules-lawyer. Do not do that. It is not hard to work out, because here is a simple guide – if you are arguing over a rule for more than twenty seconds, you are a rules lawyer. You are the Health and Safety Inspector of roleplaying games, and you need to stop talking, because you are sucking the fun out of the game.
There are times when the rules are wrong, and that’s fine, but I’m hard-pressed to think of that time the guy remembered the rule and we all laughed and had a great time because he made the GM change it.

SEVEN. Give the game your attention. If you can’t give your full attention, step away from the table.

Hey! What’s that you’re playing, on your phone there? Oh, is it Candy Crush Saga? That’s funny, all these dice and character sheets gave me the impression that we were playing Dungeons and Bloody Dragons, I must be terribly mistaken.
It is hard to think of a way to be more dismissive of someone’s game than playing a different game during it. If you find yourself getting so bored by what’s going on you’re resorting to playing a game on your phone, or reading a book, or checking Facebook, then step away from the game. You are draining the group with your very presence. I would rather have an empty chair than someone who wasn’t paying attention, because I don’t have to entertain an empty chair.
And of course, it’s up to the GM to offer an entertaining game. This is not one-sided. But going back to point one, act whenever you can. Give them something to work with. Unless you’re paying them money to do this, they are under no obligation to dance like a monkey for you just because they’re behind the screen.

EIGHT. If you make someone uncomfortable, apologise and talk to them about it.
I have a rule in my games, and that rule is: “Nothing has sex with anything else.” Simple. Clean. Elegant. No sexual conduct; it’s weird, often. I’ve had seduction attempts, obviously, and that’s fine. I’ve had characters deeply affected by sexual assault. But, and this is the crucial thing here, nothing had sex with anything else “onscreen.”
In situations like the ones we find ourselves in on a weekly basis, it’s easy to make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s as blatant as discussing dead babies; maybe it’s something much more benign, like being rude or chatting them up in-character.
If you think you might have upset someone, then ask ‘em, quietly. And if you have, apologise, and stop talking about that particular thing. It’s not rocket science; that’s how existing as a functioning social human being works, and somehow because we’re pretending to be a halfling for a bit, we often forget how to do it.

So, you know, be nice. Be extra nice. No-one’s going to think any less of you for it.

NINE. Be a Storyteller.

The World of Darkness books call their GM a Storyteller, because they are very obviously unable to call a spade a spade. But they have a point; a GM is telling stories. It’s easy to forget that the players are doing that too.
So put some effort in, eh? Say some words. Develop a character voice and stance. Describe your actions. Work out a level of agency with the GM so you can chip into wider descriptions, or just make assumptions and describe it and see if it sticks. A good GM should go with what you’re saying, anyway, unless it really goes against their plan.
Similarly, brevity = soul of wit, and all that. A good GM doesn’t monologue, or have their NPCs have long discussions, or make players sit back and watch while their world plays out. So know when to shut up, and to keep your descriptions short – unless you’re an incredible storyteller, of course. But short and punchy is always better than long and flowery.

TEN. Embrace failure.
Failure can be embarrassing. I know that I get pretty het up when the dice don’t favour me – when I’ve spent ages waiting to have my turn in a large game, say, or when I’m using some special power, or when I’ve been talking a big talk for a while or described some fancy action – and I use some pretty bad language, too. And not “fun” bad language, like we all do when we’re gaming. Like threatening “is this guy okay” bad.
And that’s not cool. I need to learn to treat failure as a story branch, not a block. Why did I miss? Why didn’t my intimidation roll work? Why didn’t I pick the lock? Why was I seen? Who worked out that I’m the traitor? What other options can I explore?
Some systems build this in by default – Apocalypse World, for example – and they give you the ability to somehow affect the world whenever you roll the dice, not just fail to affect someone’s Hit Points. That’s great! We need to get ourselves into that mindset by default. We need to view failures as setbacks and explain why our character didn’t achieve their goal, and we need to understand that failure is not the end of the world.

ELEVEN. Play the game.
This is a game. This is not a challenge that exists solely in the head of your GM. This is not your character’s personal story arc. This is not your blog. This is not an excuse to chat up one of the other players. This is not a table to sit at in silence. This is a game.
We have signed up to play a game together. We are all telling a story with each other, to each other, and the story comes first. Step back from the heat of combat; step back from your character’s difficult relationship with their half-Drow mother; step back from the way that the Paladin’s player keeps stealing your dice.
This is a game. Respect the other players. Respect the story, and act in service of it. Respect that you will not always get your way, and that not getting your way can be interesting.
Do what is best for the game. Do what is best for the story. Be active! Be positive! Be interesting! Change things! If you can’t walk away at the end of the night with a good memory, with something that you could talk about in the pub in years to come, then everyone at the table has failed.

GOING BLIND INTO THE DARK – RESURRECTED RELICS

GOING BLIND INTO THE DARK

If you ask me ancient archaeological sites like these make for superb adventure and dungeon and plot locales, though of a very different type than the standard dungeon or adventure site.

Very bizarre artefacts, relics, objects, events, rituals, and creatures could easily exist at such sites. I often use modified Real World archaeological sites and place them in my games and novels and stories because they are so ancient, rich, and full of odd and often unexplainable things. (As a matter of fact I have an entirely separate category of “adventure and plot locales” when it comes to ancient and prehistoric archaeological sites for my writings and designs, including the artefacts and events discovered/recovered there.)

It is very good to have odd and unexplainable things in your writings and in your games and milieus that the players and readers can try, like everyone else, to figure out, but can’t really understand, deduce, or explain.

Unknown or unexplained or recently discovered archaeological sites are superbly interesting because unlike many other sites they have already passed into pre-history (or out of history) or little to nothing is known about them until they are accidentally stumbled upon again (by completely different peoples and characters, etc.), and because, of course, they tend to be so ancient all memory of them has been subsequently lost. And of course many of these unknown and unrecorded sites tend to be megalithic and absolutely gargantuan in nature, consisting of many vanished layers of development. Entire campaigns and years and years of adventures, not to mention book sequels, can easily be written around such sites. And, of course, one site often bleeds into another.

That’s a superbly good state of affairs for the reader or player (going blind into the dark or going blind back into the far more ancient things), but it is an entirely excellent thing for the writer and the game designer/game master.

Because at such sites the entirely unexpected and the wholly forgotten should be the most common expectation and the most dangerous memory.

 

NASA Adds to Evidence of Mysterious Ancient Earthworks

By RALPH BLUMENTHALOCT. 30, 2015

One of the enormous earthwork configurations photographed from space is known as the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village in Kazakhstan. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
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High in the skies over Kazakhstan, space-age technology has revealed an ancient mystery on the ground.
Satellite pictures of a remote and treeless northern steppe reveal colossal earthworks — geometric figures of squares, crosses, lines and rings the size of several football fields, recognizable only from the air and the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old.

The largest, near a Neolithic settlement, is a giant square of 101 raised mounds, its opposite corners connected by a diagonal cross, covering more terrain than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Another is a kind of three-limbed swastika, its arms ending in zigzags bent counterclockwise.

Described last year at an archaeology conference in Istanbul as unique and previously unstudied, the earthworks, in the Turgai region of northern Kazakhstan, number at least 260 — mounds, trenches and ramparts — arrayed in five basic shapes.

 

The Bestamskoe Ring is among the so-called Steppe Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan — at least 260 earthwork shapes made up of mounds, trenches and ramparts, the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old, recognizable only from the air. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
Two weeks ago, in the biggest sign so far of official interest in investigating the sites, NASA released clear satellite photographs of some of the figures from about 430 miles up.

“I’ve never seen anything like this; I found it remarkable,” said Compton J. Tucker, a senior biospheric scientist for NASA in Washington who provided the archived images, taken by the satellite contractor DigitalGlobe, to Mr. Dey and The New York Times.

Ronald E. LaPorte, a University of Pittsburgh scientist who helped publicize the finds, called NASA’s involvement “hugely important” in mobilizing support for further research.

This week, NASA put space photography of the region on a task list for astronauts in the International Space Station. “It may take some time for the crew to take imagery of your site since we are under the mercy of sun elevation angles, weather constraints and crew schedule,” Melissa Higgins of Mission Operations emailed Dr. LaPorte.

The archived images from NASA add to the extensive research that Mr. Dey compiled this year in a PowerPoint lecture translated from Russian to English.

“I don’t think they were meant to be seen from the air,” Mr. Dey, 44, said in an interview from his hometown, Kostanay, dismissing outlandish speculations involving aliens and Nazis. (Long before Hitler, the swastika was an ancient and near-universal design element.) He theorizes that the figures built along straight lines on elevations were “horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun.”

Kazakhstan, a vast, oil-rich former Soviet republic that shares a border with China, has moved slowly to investigate and protect the finds, scientists say, generating few news reports.

“I was worried this was a hoax,” said Dr. LaPorte, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at Pittsburgh who noticed a report on the finds last year while researching diseases in Kazakhstan.

With the help of James Jubilee, a former American arms control officer and now a senior science and technology coordinator for health issues in Kazakhstan, Dr. LaPorte tracked down Mr. Dey through the State Department, and his images and documentation quickly convinced them of the earthworks’ authenticity and importance. They sought photos from KazCosmos, the country’s space agency, and pressed local authorities to seek urgent Unesco protection for the sites — so far without luck.

The earthworks, including the Turgai Swastika, were spotted on Google Earth in 2007 by Dmitriy Dey, a Kazakh archaeology enthusiast. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
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In the Cretaceous Period 100 million years ago, Turgai was bisected by a strait from what is now the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean. The rich lands of the steppe were a destination for Stone Age tribes seeking hunting grounds, and Mr. Dey’s research suggests that the Mahandzhar culture, which flourished there from 7,000 B.C. to 5,000 B.C., could be linked to the older figures. But scientists marvel that a nomadic population would have stayed in place for the time required to fell and lay timber for ramparts, and to dig out lake bed sediments to construct the huge mounds, originally 6 to 10 feet high and now 3 feet high and nearly 40 feet across.

Persis B. Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg who viewed some of Mr. Dey’s images, said these figures and similar ones in Peru and Chile were changing views about early nomads.

“The idea that foragers could amass the numbers of people necessary to undertake large-scale projects — like creating the Kazakhstan geoglyphs — has caused archaeologists to deeply rethink the nature and timing of sophisticated large-scale human organization as one that predates settled and civilized societies,” Dr. Clarkson wrote in an email.

“Enormous efforts” went into the structures, agreed Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, an archaeologist from Cambridge University and a lecturer at Vilnius University in Lithuania, who visited two of the sites last year. She said by email that she was dubious about calling the structures geoglyphs — a term applied to the enigmatic Nazca Lines in Peru that depict animals and plants — because geoglyphs “define art rather than objects with function.”

Dr. Matuzeviciute and two archaeologists from Kostanay University, Andrey Logvin and Irina Shevnina, discussed the figures at a meeting of European archaeologists in Istanbul last year.

With no genetic material to analyze — neither of the two mounds that have been dug into is a burial site — Dr. Matuzeviciute said she used optically stimulated luminescence, a method of measuring doses from ionizing radiation, to analyze the construction material, and came up with a date from one of the mounds of around 800 B.C. Other preliminary studies push the earliest date back more than 8,000 years, which could make them the oldest such creations ever found. Other materials yield dates in the Middle Ages.

Mr. Dey said some of the figures might have been solar observatories akin, according to some theories, to Stonehenge in England and the Chankillo towers in Peru.

“Everything is linked through the cult of the sun,” said Mr. Dey, who spoke in Russian via Skype through an interpreter, Shalkar Adambekov, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh.

The discovery was happenstance.

Researchers are hoping to marshal support for investigating the earthen mounds that make up figures like this one, the Big Ashutastinsky Cross. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
In March 2007, Mr. Dey was at home watching a program, “Pyramids, Mummies and Tombs,” on the Discovery Channel. “There are pyramids all over the earth,” he recalled thinking. “In Kazakhstan, there should be pyramids, too.”

Soon, he was searching Google Earth images of Kostanay and environs.

 

There were no pyramids. But, he said, about 200 miles to the south he saw something as intriguing — a giant square, more than 900 feet on each side, made up of dots, crisscrossed by a dotted X.

At first Mr. Dey thought it might be a leftover Soviet installation, perhaps one of Nikita S. Khrushchev’s experiments to cultivate virgin land for bread production. But the next day, Mr. Dey saw a second gigantic figure, the three-legged, swastikalike form with curlicue tips, about 300 feet in diameter.

Before the year was out, Mr. Dey had found eight more squares, circles and crosses. By 2012, there were 19. Now his log lists 260, including some odd mounds with two drooping lines called “whiskers” or “mustaches.”

Before setting out to look for the figures on the ground, Mr. Dey asked Kazakh archaeologists whether they knew of such things. The answer was no. In August 2007, he led Dr. Logvin and others to the largest figure, now called the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village.

“It was very, very hard to understand from the ground,” he recalled. “The lines are going to the horizon. You can’t figure out what the figure is.”

When they dug into one of the mounds, they found nothing. “It was not a cenotaph, where there are belongings,” he said. But nearby they found artifacts of a Neolithic settlement 6,000 to 10,000 years old, including spear points.

Now, Mr. Dey said, “the plan is to construct a base for operations.”

“We cannot dig up all the mounds. That would be counterproductive,” he said. “We need modern technologies, like they have in the West.”

Dr. LaPorte said he, Mr. Dey and their colleagues were also looking into using drones, as the Culture Ministry in Peru has been doing to map and protect ancient sites.

But time is an enemy, Mr. Dey said. One figure, called the Koga Cross, was substantially destroyed by road builders this year. And that, he said, “was after we notified officials.”

 

 

THINGS OF INTEREST AND USE – GAMEPLAY

THINGS OF INTEREST AND USE

I have a Pinterest account in which I have compiled things of interest and use for my writings, gaming, and inventions.

Some of you might find these things useful for designs, idea-generation, or mapping.

DESERT JOURNEYS – GAMEPLAY

20 Things to Enliven a Desert Journey

Adventurers are intrepid types and often disappear into the wilderness in search of gold and glory. Many such adventures seem to happen in the furthest reaches of barren deserts.

Some artwork copyright Claudio Pozas, used with permission.

 

Use the table below, to breath life into adventures set in a desert. None of the happenings listed below are intended to spawn a full encounter; rather think of them as wilderness dressing designed to add realism and depth to proceedings.

  1. A lone desiccated tree emerges from the flank of a large dune standing across the party’s march. Its wide, frond-like leaves provide a modicum of shadow—and a brief respite—from the merciless sun.
  2. A smudge of black smoke stains the horizon. If the PCs investigate they discover three burning wagons along with the slashed and torn bodies of their drovers and guards scattered about the churned, bloodstained sand.
  3. Tracks—of at least a half-dozen humanoids—cross the party’s path. A PC steeped in wilderness lore can determine the creatures were trying to move single-file (perhaps to hide their numbers) and they were heavily leaden.
  4. In the valley between two dunes, the remains of a crumbling dry stone wall struggles above the sands. Its line straggles along for about 15 ft. before disappearing below the sands.
  5. A camel’s stark white bones lie amid the shifting sands.
  6. A small flock of buzzards circle the party for several hours, before losing interest and flying away.
  7. Heat rises in shimmering curtains. On the horizon, keen-eyed characters can make out what might be a small caravan trudging across the burning hot sands.
  8. A lone cloud scuds across the sky. Bizarrely it seems to be moving against the wind.
  9. A metal helmet—scorching hot to the touch—lies in the sand. Slightly further on, the party find a heavy steel shield and still later a breastplate scoured to near-blinding brightness by the wind-driven sand.
  10. In the shade of a deep valley between two towering sand dunes lies a seemingly dried up oasis surrounded by forlorn palm trees and stubborn, coarse grass. Characters digging in the dried up pool discover water several feet down.
  11. The sun reflects off something shiny on a far-off dune. The flash of light catches one of the party’s attention. Investigations (eventually) reveal a partially buried steel shield. The sigil of a local knoll tribe is crude daubed across it.
  12. Seven rocks—placed to form an arrow—point back in the direction from which the party has come. Small drifts of sand around the stones suggest they will not be visible much longer.
  13. A ripped and torn carpet lies half buried in the sand. The worn fabric is wrapped around the desiccated body of a man wearing only a loincloth. Perceptive PCs notice it seems nearly every bone in the man’s body is broken—in the same way as if he had fallen from a great height.
  14. The mouldering body of a hyena lies amid a swath of bloodstained sand. Two arrows protrude from its body and a pack of buzzards peck and tear at its flesh.
  15. A pack of hyenas trail the party. They hang back well out of bow range, waiting for someone in the group to collapse. If attacked, they retreat in search of easier prey.
  16. A sandstorm blows across the horizon. Luckily for the PCs it is not heading in their direction.
  17. The party encounters a wide “field” of cacti. Many of the prickly plants are as tall as human. In the centre of the field lies a small oasis. Because of the cacti, the oasis is relatively safe from wandering predators.
  18. The party encounters an area of particularly soft sand. Although this is not quicksand, it makes travel even harder than normal. The area is quite extensive—several miles across in fact—but diverting around it could add a day to the party’s journey.
  19. The wind and shifting sands reveal the remains of an old battle. Skeletons scoured bright white by the sands lie where they fell. Amid the carnage lies the combatants’ desiccated and rusted equipment.
  20. The party witnesses a savage storm ahead. Later—as night falls—they encounter an area of rock upland scoured free of sand. Near its peak they discover a cave containing a worn set of steps leading down into darkness…

GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing

If you enjoy the table above and like wilderness dressing, check out GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing—Endzeitgeist’s choice as the number one book of 2014! Crammed with 150 pages of information and charts designed to bring your wilderness adventures alive, GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing is an essential part of any GM’s arsenal.

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT – ALLTHING

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT: MUNDANE AND MAGICAL

A friend of mine and I were having a discussion last night and this morning on primitive bow-making and historical facts. She informed me that ancient men and later frontiersmen used their bow staves as primitive one stringed lyres (or musical bows) and their arrow shafts as primitive bows to play very basic music. See one reference below.

This idea only makes great sense and you can easily see how this would have led to to the development of primitive musical bows and lyres specifically for music.

Anyway this gave me both a gaming and literary idea. In gaming you would have a bow specifically designed for Bards (or that they create themselves as part of their unique gear – like a warrior who forges his own sword) that can easily serve as a modified musical instrument that would allow him to both enchant enemies and opponents and entertain or in some way heal or bless allies and companions. A magical version would then have both combat and Bardic advantages, and it is so very natural since such equipment could easily serve dual or even multiple functions (it might also serve as a 4 to 5 foot pole or as a climbing rod/tool when unbent or in stave form).

As a literary device for my novels it could serve the same basic functions but, of course, would not be described in that way. There is a Welsh bard in one of my novels who would naturally easily employ such a bow.

This is hardly the first device or weapon or piece of gear or equipment I’ve made use of for dual or multiple purposes (either in real life, games, or in literature or poetry) but it is a rather fascinating and new employment for me. Bow staves as musical instruments.

Now all of that being said what items do you use in your games or writings or even in real life as dual-use pieces of equipment or gear?

Further Reference: Work Songs, Plutarch, and the Scythians

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