A Duet of Spells

Since most of my time right now is devoted to editing, it’s been tough to produce new material for the blog. I guess I had the Bard of Avon buzzing in my ear this weekend, though, when I wrote these thought up these spells …

Star Crossed
Magic-User 3
30’ range
Permanent until removed

The magic-user causes two creatures within 30 feet to have their fates exchanged. The two creatures must be friends or allies of one another. The spell exchanges the ability score modifiers, attack bonus and saving throw values between the two creatures. The spell lasts until the two creatures make contact with one another while remove curse is cast on them.

Zounds
Cleric (Lawful) 2
30’ range
Lasts a number of rounds equal to the cleric’s level

One target within 30 feet has terrible, bleeding wounds opened up on its hands and feet. The pain is terrible, leaving the creature crippled (see Conditions) and imposing a -3 penalty to attack and perform tasks involving holding tools or using their hands (pick pocket, open lock, etc.).

For Lawful clerics, though, it also brings on an apotheosis, increasing their caster level by +2 and granting them a +1 bonus to save vs. magic for 24 hours.

I’ve been wanting to do something Shakespearean – perhaps this points the way.

Spell Hooks

I’ve been busy editing Blood & Treasure Second Edition for the last couple weeks, a great deal of that time spent on the spells. I’m trying to streamline them wherever possible, and there are plenty of them to edit.

While doing so, it’s occurred to me how many of them are really more NPC spells than PC spells. That’s not to say they cannot be used by PCs, but they often require more forethought than most players can realistically use (i.e. they are meant for plots, rather than reactions to plots), and they are not as action oriented as most PCs need in dungeon delving.

These NPC spells are useful for GM’s to use as adventure hooks or encounters. Here are three such ideas:

Magic Jar

Magic jar is a natural, but I don’t know that is sees much use as an adventure hook. An evil magic-user hides his essence in some vessel, and uses it as a base of operations for possessing the adventurers or their henchmen, slowly picking them off, one by one, until they are destroyed.

The plan would work as follows: There’s a plain vessel in one of the rooms of a dungeon. It’s plain so the adventurers leave it alone. An evil magic-user has used it as a magic jar. When adventurers first enter the room, he possesses one of the henchmen, grabbing the vessel before he leaves. He using the form to spy on the party, maybe steal something, maybe put one or more adventurers or henchmen in mortal peril in a way that is not obviously his fault. Since the henchman is carrying the vessel with him, the magic-user can possess others, slowly tearing the party apart from the inside. Perhaps he is ultimately leading them to their doom elsewhere, where he can leap back into his own preserved form.

Secret Chest

In this scenario, an adventurer moving on the Ethereal Plane stumbles (literally) across a secret chest that was abandoned there long ago. The chest is hard to open, and probably contains something dangerous that was never meant to be found or released.

Simulacrum

The adventurers are hired by a simulacrum (they don’t know this) for a mission to rescue the original magic-user. The simulacrum has 50% of the original’s experience and knowledge, so she’s useful in the party, but not too useful, and there are important gaps in her knowledge that relate to finding the original.

Here’s the rub. The original is in mortal peril, and will die before rescued. The original is also evil, and on a very dangerous mission. After the original dies, the simulacrum begins gaining more experience and knowledge, and begins to gain the evil alignment of the original. Now, the simulacrum is leading the adventurers into a trap, where she can sacrifice them to gain the immense power the original was after.

The Wages of Fame

William Tell

I’ve seen a few systems in games for measuring the reputation or fame of adventurers. They make sense, to some extent – folks spending their kind of money and killing monsters the way they do should be pretty well known in a campaign area. But should they? And how? And what do they get from it? And why am I asking so many questions? Huh?

Here’s an idea for handling fame without adding too much in the way of rules or complications. It might suck, but here it is anyways.

Accumulating Fame

How do people become famous in a medieval milieu? For the purposes of D&D and similar games, it makes sense to tie fame to deeds. Hey, if Bob jumps over a cow at the local faire, people in the village will know that Bob is famous for jumping. They’ll tell others, and maybe for several villages around Bob will be known as “the jumper”. So it goes with adventurers.

Since fame is tied to deeds, it also makes sense that fame is tied to XP. XP are handed out for deeds, therefore XP equals fame.

Or does it?

In our example above, everyone saw Bob jump over the cow. If Bob had done it without witnesses, and just claimed to have jumped over a cow, he might have become known as Bob the Liar rather than Bob the Jumper. So, in this system, XP only turn into fame when the deeds that generated the XP are either witnessed by the public at large, or can be proved. If you want to use this system, you’ll need to put a second XP number in parentheses after the normal XP number.

You accumulate these “fame XP” by doing things in front of people, or you need to spend or display the treasure you looted, and you need to bring back trophies (at least one really good one, the gorier the better) to show that you defeated monsters or black knights or wizards. If you do these things, you count those XP towards your fame level.

Since we have a separate “fame XP”, we also have a separate “fame level”. For simplicity’s sake, use the Fighter’s XP progression in your game as the Fame XP progression.

Fame levels are as follows:

The Upside of Fame

So, what do these fame levels get you?

First level fame is worth nothing.

From 2nd level onward, they enjoy the following benefits:

1) They have a percent chance of drinking for free and picking up interesting rumors in taverns

2) They have a percent chance of getting an invite to dine with notables equal to their fame level, the chance depending on the size of the settlement

3) You can employ an extra number of henchmen equal to your fame level, and their base loyalty is increased by a number of percentage points equal to your fame level

4) You can request audiences with princes, kings, emperors, high priests, etc. You have half this chance of requesting a boon in exchange for a favor, and a percent chance equal to your fame level of requesting a boon in exchange for nothing

The Downside of Fame

Fame has a downside as well. When you enter an area, your fame might proceed you. You can cut the chances of being recognized by wearing a disguise and using a different name, but lose the benefits of fame (see above) if you do so. Here’s a twist – if you are moving in a group and not everyone in the group is disguised, your chances of being noticed are increased by 5% per undisguised person.

If you are recognized, one of the following happens:

Challenges: You will be challenged to a duel (magical or martial) or test of skill by other notables in the area. This will be public. Losing these challenges actually reduces your fame XP level by as much as it would have increased if you had won.

Quests: If you are neutral or lawful (good), and there’s trouble afoot, you will be asked to handle it. If people have been kidnapped or there are monster’s raiding the area, you are expected to solve it. If you refuse, you lose enough XP to take you down a fame level. You suffer the same consequences if you fail at the quest.

Justice: If you are chaotic (evil), you are set upon by the authorities in the area, or bounty hunters or people you wronged in the past. In other words, being famous and evil means being hunted.

For this reason, characters might discover that fame is a double-edged sword.

Death

Nobody wants to die, but dying famous is probably better than dying unknown for an adventurer. When a character dies, the following happens:

6% chance per fame level of a folk song being composed in their honor

4% chance per fame level of a biography being written about them

2% chance per fame level of a monument being erected where they died or a civilized place nearby

For clerics, druids and paladins, there is a 1% chance of them being canonized

Now, total these honors received. This is the percent chance (thus, maximum 4%) that upon death they are received by “the gods” into their company as a quasi-deity. They can still be used as PC’s, with powers deemed suitable by the DM, but only in the company of other quasi-deities or demi-deities and the like. Congratulations!

Dragon by Dragon – April 1981 (48)

Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there in blog land – and happy April Fools Day, since this week we’re looking at an April issue of Dragon – #48, from good old 1981.

Before I hit the magazine, though, I’m going to do a little advertising – NOD 29 is now out as a PDF, at Lulu.com and Rpgnow.com. This one has the second half of the Trollheim hex crawl, the third part of the d20 Mecha series featuring some mecha stats that could be useful for all sorts of sci-fi games, Aaron Siddall‘s very cool Hyperspace campaign notes for GRIT & VIGOR, which combines Lovecraft with good old fashioned rocket-powered sci-fi, Tony Tucker’s take on the luchador class for GRIT & VIGOR, a Quick & Easy mini-game pitting luchadores vs. the Aztec Mummy, a random class generator (along with a couple random classes that came out pretty good), info on using interesting historic coins in treasure hoards, the Laser Mage class and a couple tidbits for SPACE PRINCESS. All sorts of fun for $4.99.

And now, ladies and gents, on to the magazine.

We begin with an Arms Law ad, and a few thoughts on said ad by the writer of the blog:

 

That first bit is the problem – death being only one blow away with Arms Law. Many would argue that it’s more realistic than D&D combat … and they’re right. That’s precisely the problem. We already live in the real world, where death is one blow away. That’s why most of us live boring lives and indulge in fantasy for our excitement. I’m not sure injecting that kind of realism in fantasy is worth the trouble. A realistic game for the sake of the challenge, on the other hand, can be quite engaging. Just a thought.

And now, God forgive me, I’m going to show another old ad. I like the tagline – “not for everybody” – clever. Here’s a post about the game.

I might have mused about this before, but is anyone out there making new retro-computer dungeon crawls? For those in the know – would it be hard? I think it might be fun to create some relatively simple games with simple mechanics for those who want to just do some old fashioned dungeon crawling.

The theme for this issue is Underwater Adventuring. I can attest to how hard it is to write underwater adventures – or at least adventure locales for my hex crawls. So much of what we take for granted on the surface doesn’t work underwater. The first article, “Watery Words to the Wise” by Jeff Swycaffer, does a nice job of hitting the highlights of what does and does not work underwater. No rules, just sound advice.

Up next is the “Dragon’s Bestiary”, which features the Water-Horse by Roger E. Moore, Golden Ammorite by Roger E. Moore and Sea Demon by Ernest N. Rowland Jr. Nothing earthshaking here, but solid monsters for an underwater (or close-to-water) game.

The “Bazaar of the Bizarre” is also aquatically inclined, all by Roger E. Moore.

Naturally, Dragon Magazine comes through with its annual April Fools Day supplement, this one with its own cover (for Dragon #48-1/2). Truth be told, I think I like it better than the actual cover.

This month we get a bit on the Accountant character class and a game called Real Life with a nice bit of character generation:

 

We also get “Saturday Morning Monsters”, with stats for Bugs Bunny (CG 15th level illusionist), Daffy Duck (CN and totally nuts), Popeye (LN 9th or 18th level fighter), Rocky (LG 12th level fighter) and Bullwinkle (LG 13th level fighter) and Dudley Do-Right (LG 18th level paladin).

Back into the real magazine, Tim Lasko has an article on the druid called “The Druid and the DM”. It’s a general overview of the class as presented in AD&D, along with some suggestions for rule changes involving druid spells, many involing the use of “greater mistletoe”, changing the druid’s initial age and how his age works in-game (kind of weird idea – not sure why I should use it, or whether it would be worth the trouble), giving them the sage’s ability to answer questions about flora and fauna (good idea, but doesn’t require rules in my opinion) and a few other bits. It’s a combination of unnecessary complication, rules for things that don’t really require rules and ticky-tack little bonuses. Not bad, per se, but not terribly useful.

Players of Top Secret, which appears to be making a comeback these days, might enjoy “Doctor Yes”, a scenario written by Merle Rasmussen and James Thompson. The scenario is set on a floating island and appears to be engaging and thorough – rules for underwater adventuring in TS, and a large complex with traps and dangers. You also get stats for such personel as Chuck Morris, Bruce Nee and “Sweetbeam” Leotard.

“Giants in the Earth” presents Ursula K. LeGuin’s Sparrowhawk (N 21st level Illusionist/20th level Magic-User) and Andrew Offutt and Richard Lyon’s Tiana Highrider (CG 12th level Fighter/12th level Thief).

Michael Kelly‘s “Instant Adventures” is a neat article with a list of adventure types, along with the materials they require and the time involved in preparation. A few examples:

Assault/Raid (Bodysnatch), requires a small military encampment and takes about 20 minutes to set up.

Feud, Inter-family, requires a brief history of the feud and the feuding families, as well as a reason for the involvement of the characters; takes a couple hours to prepare.

Smuggling, Weapons, requires a war and revolutionaries in need of weapons and supplies, as well as a source for those weapons and supplies; takes about 20 minutes to prepare.

At a minimum, it’s a great source of ideas for games.

Lakofka‘s “Mission Control” article dovetails nicely with it, being a way of detemining how tough the bad guy faced by adventurers should be. In a nutshell, it is based on the total XP of the party, that determining the level of the big bad guy and how much treasure/magic items he should have. The article gets pretty wordy and “in the weeds”, but the basic ideas are solid and useful.

And so ends Dragon #48, as usual, with a frame from Wormy …

And now begins White Dwarf #24, the April/May 1981 issue. The issue starts off with a great cover – barbarian woman and a sort of Bronze Age warrior-type before a stepped jungle pyramid with dragons or pteranodons buzzing about. Good stuff. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say again that in my opinion the quality of layout and art in White Dwarf was superior to Dragon in this period. Dragon’s layout was never inspired, but the cover art got much better as time went on. Both magazines are a pain in the butt to read for folks without premium peepers, but that’s not their fault, just Father Time’s.

The first highlight for me in this issue of White Dwarf is some a beautiful piece of art by the great Russ Nicholson:

It suggests a great scenario – the adventurers captured and stripped of their toys – that’s hard to implement. Most players don’t dig it, and there’s usually an idea that if you’re putting them through it they’re going to live through the experience. An assumed guarantee of survival takes the fun out of the scenario. Still, if you can find the right kind of players, it makes for a great game.

I found the review for a game called Quirks – the game of unnatural selection interesting. Ian Livingstone gave it a good review and it sounds like an interesting concept, wherein players create weird plants and animals and have to adapt them to survive changing climates and challenges.

WD24 also has a detective class with some interesting abilities (10% chance of noticing disguised assassins), some sage abilities, thief abilities, spells and tracking. I think I’d enjoy playing a Halfling Shamus (4th level detective).

Mark Byng has an AD&D mini-module called “The Lair of Maldred the Mighty” which is, if I’m honest, kind of hard to read for an old fart like myself. Not his fault – a layout issue.

Monster Madness has a few “of the more eccentric monsters to have graced the White Dwarf letter box” – in this case the Bonacon by David Taylor, Llort by Andrew Key, Todal and Marcus Barbor, Tali Monster by Craig Edwards, Dungeon Master by Malory Nye. For fun, the DM is below in B&T format:

Dungeon Master, Medium Humanoid: HD as many as he likes; AC 16 (chainmail and judge’s shield), ATK special, MV 30′, SV varies, AL CE usually, Special: 30% chance he will follow adventurers around a dungeon telling them what they can and cannot do, rolls for wandering monsters when characters make any noise at all, reading of the rules (sleep spell), consults matrices and confuses attackers, not spell affects him unless you can persuade him otherwise, weapons do half damage, susceptible to bribes of 500 gp or more (treat as charm person).

That’s that, boys and girls. Have fun, do something nice for mom and then do something nice for everyone else.

Dragon by Dragon – March 1981 (47)

It’s been a little while since I had the time to review a Dragon Magazine, but today is the day!

I’m going to kick it right off with a letter to the editor …

‘The height of absurdity’

Dear Editor:

I finished reading my December issue of DRAGON magazine in a rage. I refer to the letter from the player (“Lowly Players”) who says his DM won’t let his group subscribe to DRAGON magazine because therein are things meant only for the DM.

The height of absurdity indeed.

Aside from overwrought readers, what else does #47 offer?

Up first is the AD&D exam, which might be fun to put on Google+ for a prize … something to think about. It looks like it’s mostly True or False, which suggests starting with contestants in brackets like the NCAA basketball tournament.

A letter about the elemental planes by Steven Kienle brought up a couple neat ideas, to whit:

“Play on other planes gives the DM a chance to introduce new magic items into the campaign without “overloading” the prime material world, perhaps altering their characteristics or their effects to conform with how they would operate in the alien environment.”

Nice idea – offer up some magic items to help survive on the plane, but make them useless elsewhere.

“Because of the strangeness of our appearance to natives of other planes, a character’s Charisma would be reduced by from 1-3 points in attempts to communicate or deal with the creature (but never going below 3). The amount of the reduction depends on how dissimilar the two creature types are; for instance, it might be -1 on the elemental plane of earth, because both life forms have solid bodies, but it would be greater on the elemental plane of air, where the native life form does not have a solid body.”

Air elementals do not favor the “flesh time”.

“Natives of the elemental planes need not be entirely alien and original; but might be adaptations of creatures found on the prime material. For example, a spider native to the plane of fire would appear as a ball of fire with eight tongues of flame sticking out of it. Most undead creatures would appear different on an elemental plane, since they would be the undead form of a creature native to that plane. For instance, a skeleton on the plane of fire would appear as a network of flames instead of a structure of bones.”

Neat ideas for fire plane monsters!

The letter reminds me of the old Dragon material, where it was people throwing around clever ideas without “ruling” them to death.

It is followed by a complicated thing about using search patterns while traveling astrally, yadda yadda yadda …

Dig this awesome art …

It’s a collection of weird planar monsters by Patrick Amory (this guy?), including the wirchler (seen above), the aruchai (blobs of flesh from Limbo), the phoenix from Elysium, the furies from Tartarus, the mapmakers from Pandemonium, the flards of Nirvana and the sugo from Acheron.

Here’s a slick excerpt:

“The Wirchler originates from the plane of Gehenna, the Valley of Flame. Fire is their natural habitat, much as air is ours. They are, however, known to leave their dreadful home in groups to search for new prey. At present they pay precious Fire-gems to the Night Hags in Hades in return for Larvae to torture.”

Fire-gems for night hags. Nice.

Leonard Lakofka then takes a special look at the thief. It’s a nice article, covering some things he thinks players miss about playing a thief – picking more pockets, sneaking into camps to steal things or make maps, etc. He also adds a percent chance to set traps, beginning at 26% at first level and topping out at 80% at 15th level. Makes sense to me. He includes a modifier for high or low dexterity, and the following racial adjustments: Dwarves +15%, gnomes +10%, halflings +8%, half-orcs +4% and elves -5%.

Lakofka also adds this tidbit: Multiply Intelligence by 12 to discover the percentage chance that a character can read and write in a language he speaks. This would only impact characters with an intelligence of 8 or lower.

Giants in the Earth presents stats by Katharine Brahtin Kerr for P. Vergilius Maro’s Camilla (a Chaotic Good 10th level fighter) and Medea, Tamer of Dragons (a Chaotic Neutral 18th level magic-user with sage abilities).

Here’s a quick bit from Top Secret by Merle M. Rasmussen – determining handedness of agents:

01-89: Character is right-handed
90-99: Character is left-handed
00: Character is ambidextrous

In case you needed such a table.

Here’s the good stuff – a game by David Cook called Crimefighters, for simulating the heroes of pulp fiction. I wonder if anyone has done a retro-clone of this game?

Here’s the “mysterious power table” for making Shadow-esque characters:

1 – Command
2 – Confusion
3 – ESP
4 – Fear
5 – Foresight
6 – Hypnotism
7 – Invisibility
8 – Luck
9 – Shadow Control
10 – Sight

Combat is measured in seconds in a clever system that requires one to state their actions and then roll initiative. Changing one’s actions mid-stream introduces a 1 second penalty.

It comes with an adventure – “The Case of the Editor’s Envelope”. The set up isn’t unlike what I did with Mystery Men!

It looks like a very playable system, with plenty that can be used by folks playing other games.

It’s times like these I wish I had the time to whip up a quick game on Google+ – would probably be a blast.

Boy, some of those alien ships in Cluster look familiar:

Also a nice little Otus sketch:

 

And then there’s Jim Holloway’s illustration for Tony Watson‘s review of Task Force Games’ Robots!.

 

You can pick up a used copy at Amazon.

I leave you, as always, with a bit of Tramp

Very Disney-esque, this one.

Have fun on the internet, and don’t give into rage if you discover somebody won’t let their players read the Dragon.