Rainbow Fantasy I – The Butterfly

There are so many kinds of fantasy to choose from. Old D&D was a mish-mash of everything from King Arthur to Hammer films to Elric (which is why I love it), Warhammer does dark and gothic, there are the oiled up barbarians from 80’s movies, fairy and folk tales, weird fantasy and horror … and also what I would have called in my youth “girly fantasy”.

OK – don’t get up in arms over the nickname, but when I was growing up this was the stuff more girls liked than guys. I think most folks know what I’m talking about – rainbows, unicorns, pegasi, fairies, etc. Let’s call it “Rainbow Fantasy”.

While Rainbow Fantasy may have ended up in 80’s TV cartoons and on junior high school folders, it started long before that. Old fairy tales made some use of it, Baum’s OZ, where people cannot die is within this category, and the “hippies” during the psychedelic 60’s who were besotted with flowers and nature and pleasure in all its forms certainly used it. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is like a hex crawl through this sort of fantasy.

Where Rainbow Fantasy has gotten short shrift, I think, is fantasy role playing games. I remember when a few guys in the neighborhood and me starting playing some D&D back in the 80’s. We invited a neighborhood girl (a close friend of mine, practically a sister) to play. She created a Rainbow Fantasy-style elf character, and we all looked at her like she was insane. He had a cutesy name. D&D just wasn’t for cutesy names.

Well, of course D&D is for cutesy names or whatever else you want to cram into it. It’s a system, not a genre. Jeff Rients said it best when he said, “You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula.” As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate all sorts of things I didn’t as a kid, especially something as strange and creative as Rainbow Fantasy.

With that in mind, I’m going to write a few articles to bring a little rainbow into the deep, dark dungeon. Up first is a character class called the Butterfly, inspired by an old piece of fantasy art from a magazine that had very little to do with fantasy. I’ll then discuss the ways we can treat alignment and quests in this sort of fantasy to make it work, and I’ll follow up with a discussion of how existing classes and races might work in a rainbow fantasy campaign as well as introduce one more class.

You play She-Ra, I’ll play the Last Unicorn. Dracula will never know what hit him.

The Butterfly Class

Butterflies are a mystic calling of some people. Those with a lust for wandering in wide meadows of cool grass and chatting with hummingbirds, those who wish to escape the bonds of the earth and the boundaries of the mind. They can see the beauty of life and nature despite the ugliness and sorrow, and seek to spread that beauty far and wide. The butterfly is like a light in the darkness.

|Requirements & Restrictions|

Ability Scores: Dex 11, Cha 13

Alignment: Non-chaotic

Armor Permitted: None

Weapons Permitted: Club, dagger, sling, staff

|Butterfly Skills|

Butterflies add their level to the following task checks:

Communication: Butterflies can communicate with creatures that speak languages they do not understand. Much of this is through empathy and hand gestures (but not THAT hand gesture – it’s just so crude).

Fly: Butterflies can perform all manner of aerobatic stunts while flying with their natural wings or while mounted on flying mounts.

Handle Animals: Butterflies can calm frightened and hostile animals, and tame wild animals. They can teach tame animals simple tricks.

Move Silently: Butterflies can walk slowly and lightly without making a sound.

|Butterfly Abilities|

Butterflies can see auras. This includes magic auras generated by spells, magic items and the like, and alignments (Law, Chaos and Neutrality).

A butterfly can speak with all animals and is always considered a friend by non-predatory beasts. These animals will help a butterfly whenever she requests it, as long as it does not put them in direct danger and as long as she treats them with respect and kindness. A butterfly gets a +2 bonus to reaction checks with predators, and might be able to convince them to help her given the right inducements.

A 2nd level butterfly can shrink to tiny size, about 6 inches tall, and grow butterfly wings. She can do this once per day per two levels. At this size, the butterfly can fly at a speed of 60 feet per round. In this form, she can weave magic (see below). The butterfly can remain at this size for as long as she likes, and can return to normal at will.

A 3rd level butterfly can grow butterfly wings while at full size and use them to fly at a speed of 40 feet per round. She can do this once per day per three levels.

At 4th level, a butterfly can take the form of a cloud of butterflies. She can do this once per day per four levels. Treat this as the same as a magic-user taking gaseous form.

Whenever a butterfly is flying, she leaves behind a trail of glitterdust (per the spell) which falls on any creature beneath her flight path.

Butterfly Spell List

1st level – Audible glamer, calm emotions, charm person, color spray, dancing lights, detect secret doors, faerie fire, goodberry, hypnotism, light, reduce person, sleep

2nd level – Continual light, cure light wounds, darkvision, glitterdust, hold animal, invisibility, pyrotechnics, reduce animal, summon swarm (insects only), web

3rd level – Blink, cure moderate wounds, daylight, hold person, invisibility sphere, shrink item, sleep II, speak with plants

4th level – Charm monster, cure serious wounds, false forest, giant vermin, invisibility II, rainbow pattern

Butterfly Class Table

LVL XP HD ATK SV 1 2 3 4
1 0 1d4 +0 15 1
2 1,500 2d4 +0 14 2
3 3,000 3d4 +1 14 3 1
4 6,000 4d4 +1 13 3 2
5 12,000 5d4 +1 13 3 3 1
6 24,000 6d4 +2 12 3 3 2
7 48,000 7d4 +2 12 3 3 3 1
8 100,000 8d4 +3 12 4 3 3 2
9 200,000 9d4 +3 11 4 3 3 3
10 300,000 10d4 +3 11 4 4 3 3
11 400,000 +1 hp +4 10 4 4 3 3
12 500,000 +1 hp +4 10 4 4 4 3
13+ +100,000 +1 hp 5 4 4 3

 

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Dangerous Ground

Combat in D&D and its various descendants is abstract for the most part, making it fast (well, except in 3E) and easy to run, and thus pretty fun to play. So how about using abstraction to introduce dangerous battlefield conditions into a fight?

The Idea

While some battlefields may be perfectly safe to fight in, one can expect many fights, given where they occur and the genre in which they exist, to be fought in dangerous spaces. The floor could be slippery, there could be a fire pit in the middle of it, the roof could be caving in – just use your imagination.

flashVbarinActually staging a combat in such a dangerous space can be tricky, though, because the combat rules are abstract. You can use a battle grid and miniatures, but sometimes they are feasible, or you just don’t want the bother.

One way to get around this is to extend the abstraction of combat – Armor Class, hit points, etc. – to the ground itself.

As the Referee, you pick a number from 1 to 20. This is the unlucky number. When this number is rolled during combat – attack rolls or damage rolls – the roller of the number suffers an effect tied to the battlefield.

For example – the room in which a fight is taking place has a fire pit in the middle of it. The pit is about 2 feet deep and there are hot coals in the bottom of it. The Referee decides a roll of ’10’ (unmodified by anything) means somebody has stepped into the pit and burned themselves for 1d4 points of damage. He also decides this damage cannot reduce them to less than 1 hit point, and that the unlucky combatant must pass a saving throw or suffer a penalty to movement for an hour due to twisting an ankle or burning a foot.

Now – this is key – it is probably a good idea to let players know what the unlucky number is, and what can happen (in general terms) when it is rolled. Why? I’ll let Alfred Hitchcock explain:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

When the players know the unlucky number, every dang roll has some tension packed into it. You know how everybody stared with wide eyes and holds their breath when somebody has to roll a crucial saving throw or attack? You can bring a little of that to every roll during one of these fights, but only if people know the unlucky number.

A few things to consider if you decide to use this notion:

If the unlucky number is low, it means it has a more likely chance of coming up, since both attack rolls (1d20) and damage rolls (d4, d6, d8 etc.) can trigger it. If you want the effect to be more rare, make the number higher than 10.

Higher numbers also mean success can be tinged with failure; lower numbers can rub salt in the wound of missing an attack.

You can have multiple unlucky numbers. In the example above, the roof might also be in danger of caving in, so a ’10’ means stepping in the fire pit and a ’17’ means roof tiles fall on a person for 1d4 damage.

The effect can also be a time track. Using the “roof falling in” example above, each roll of ’17’ can bring the roof closer to collapsing entirely on the people in the room. Maybe it takes 3 such rolls before it happens. This introduces some great tension into the fight, and requires players to gamble a bit every time they roll the dice.

You could, maybe even should, permit people a way to avoid these unlucky numbers. Maybe they have to reduce their movement rate or accept a penalty to attack.

Whatever the unlucky number, carry the attack and damage roll through completely before the dice roller suffers the consequences. In other words, if the attack roll brings up the unlucky number AND scores a hit, the hit counts and damage is rolled before the unlucky attacker burns himself, slips, etc.

One could also use this to simulate the danger of engaging giant monsters, with a chance of being stepped on or knocked into or of a randomly flailing tail connecting for damage.

 

JMS-BLACK

 

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Libraries Made Easy

AncientlibraryalexLibraries are a common trope in fantasy art, literature, etc. The old wizard hunched over books amid a sea of books. In fantasy games, though, they leave something to be desired. They can always be used as a backdrop, of course – just window dressing – but I think it’s more satisfying to make them worth their while.

In the past, I’ve tried to detail specific books found in a library. You come up with some cute, old-fashioned title, and maybe decide what important tidbits of knowledge are to found within it, but again – mostly unsatisfying. Not an extreme amount of utility, and often they turn out not to be that useful. The book is written on an equipment list where it is forgotten.

With this system, you can get a general idea of the utility of a library with a small bit of identifying text – less than a monster’s stat block. You might still want to get fancy with book titles, and of course you will still want to describe the sights, sounds and smells of the thing to the adventurers, but at least the utility of the library will be concise and easy to remember.

Library Size

This is the first element of a library – the size. Based on the size of the library, adventurers can get a bonus to answering questions in various subjects. The size of the library also determines how long it takes to find those answers.

Here are the library sizes:

Size Description Bonus Time
Tiny Travel size +5 1d6 minutes
Small Bookshelf +10 1d6 turns
Medium Room of books – a sage’s library +15 1d6 hours
Large Several rooms – a wizard’s library +20 1d6 days
Huge Library at Alexandria +25 2d6 days

There the basic library set up. All the reference text required when you write a dungeon chamber or a city or whatever is “Small Library”.

Note that bonus here is given as a bonus on a d20 roll (and I know, it looks huge at the moment, but read on). For percentile systems, multiply by 5 (+1 = +5%). If you normally roll d6 for skill checks you’ll have to be creative.

Tiny libraries only give you one chance to find information to help answer a question. Larger libraries grant people multiple chances: 2 chances for a small library, 3 for medium, 4 for large and 5 for huge. Each time, one must roll for how long the research takes. One could, therefore, spend up to 60 days researching in a huge library and still not find the answer to their question.

Subjects

While there are many subjects a real library could cover, fantasy adventurers usually have questions that we can bundle into five subjects. For a general library, divide the library’s bonus evenly among the five subjects. A tiny library, then, would grant a +1 bonus to answering questions in each of the five subjects, where a huge library would grant a +5 bonus.

Libraries can also specialize, dividing their total bonus up between the different subjects as you see fit. To do this, you add a parenthetical to the library’s size thus: Medium library (A5, H1, L5, N3, T1). The letter corresponds to a subject and the number corresponds to the bonus.

Subject Basic Advanced
Arcana (A) Spell components, correspondences and general effects of spells and magic items Actual spell research, activation words for magic items, true names of demons
Healing (H) Non-magic diseases and poisons Magic diseases and poisons, other magical effects like petrification
Lore (L) Recorded history of the “material plane”, legends and folklore of the same Lore from primordial times, lore from other planes of existence
Nature (N) Abilities and vulnerabilities of creatures from the material plane (e.g. wolves, owlbears, halflings) Abilities and vulnerabilities of creatures from other planes of existence (e.g. demons, devils, elementals)
Travel (T) Geography of the material plane – how to get from point A to point B and what to expect along the way Same, but for other planes of existence and time travel; also existence of magic portals and how to use them

Subjects are divided into basic and advanced categories. For a basic category, use the library’s full bonus for that subject. For advanced, use half that bonus (rounding down).

Fleshing It Out

This scheme gives you a basic “stat block” for a library. There is, of course, so much more you can do with these things:

1) Describe the thing – the leather of the books, the smell of the paper, the dust, the disorder (if the library is really disordered, double or triple the time it takes to answer questions), the wood of the shelves, the tile floor, the librarian giving you the stink eye when you walk into his library in bloody platemail, etc.

2) Definitely describe the librarian if there is one. If the library is large enough, the librarian should be fleshed out as a full NPC since one might interact with them more than once. A good librarian might become an ally or enemy, or at least an adventure hook.

3) The library could present particular dangers or challenges. Maybe it is so old that each time you use it the overall bonus (or a specific bonus) is reduced by one, or is reduced by one if you fail a save or dexterity check. Maybe there are traps and thus a % chance of stumbling into them (‘15% chance of book avalanche when studying nature’ or ‘rot grubs infest the arcana books’). Maybe the library consists of engraved basalt tablets in a cave at the base of a volcano, with seams of lava between them – the bonuses are tripled, but the research involves jumping over red hot lava that can kill you.

JMS-BLACK

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Yes, But …

treasure-chest11It’s been a long slog through a dangerous wilderness and then a devilish dungeon. Henchmen have died, PC’s have bled, but in the end, Law triumphed over Chaos (with an assist by Neutrality) and the dragon is dead.

Yes, but …

The PC’s have “won” the game. They’ve completed the adventure. They’re done. Or are they? Since the name of the game is adventure, the end of a particular adventure can be a temporary thing. I draw to your attention Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs and his planetary romance set on Barsoom. If you haven’t read about old John Carter and his incomparable princess, you should, and in between the Martian sight-seeing you might also pay attention to how ERB paces the books and ends them, at least how he ends the first one because it’s a great way to run adventures.

220px-Princess_of_Mars_largeIn A Princess of Mars, every success by John Carter is a doorway to a new challenge that must be faced (and must be faced NOW!). Once John Carter gets used to the red planet, it’s pretty nonstop action – challenge followed by resolution followed by complication or new challenge, etc. When the book finally ends, the adventure does not. Like all of us wide-eyed kids who saw Han frozen in carbonite and Luke get a rough lesson about his family tree, readers of the first Barsoom novel are left hanging, waiting for the next installment.

The Notion

Almost every success in the game drives the adventurers to a new challenge, and the end of each “module” leads directly into the next for at least three “modules”. After every three, the adventurers have a chance to rest.

The idea here is not a story-driven piece, in which the players are led by the nose. The players can always choose to give up. They just have to face the consequences. They intrude on a dungeon and decide not to face the dragon – fine – but the dragon is now awake and cranky and everyone for 100 miles is suffering for it.

Moreover, when they kill the dragon, a new challenge arises from that now moldering corpse. Think about some of the classic module series of AD&D and how they linked – you finish the slavers in the under city, but now you’re led to their stockade to strike another blow against their evil.

When you design your adventures, think about how to turn one adventure into a trilogy (or how to break a mega-adventure into a trilogy of smaller adventures).

This might involve:

  1. Foreshadowing the trilogy in its first two stages – not in ham-handed way, but in such a way that as new things are revealed, the players get that light bulb moment and start making connections. It might make sense to make sure the players know there’s more in store. If the group is heading off to deal with some kobolds in the woods, an old man in the tavern might mention that he thinks the kobolds are being put up to it by the weird cult in the hills. Another might scoff and say something like, “Oh, I suppose next you’ll tell us the dragon beyond the mountains is causing the drought.” Now they know there’s more out there than just some kobolds in a 1st level dungeon.
  2. When you write the adventures, figure out how they link together, and how each is a separate adventure in its own right. Give the players bite-size chunks – bring the courses of the adventure meal out one at a time rather than all at once. The best way to do this is to make the end of one the beginning of the next one. Each adventure needs a beginning (“You all meet in a tavern …”) a middle (the delve) and an end (“… you open the treasure chest and find …”). The end holds the key to the next beginning, “… but as you fill your packs with treasure, the ground shakes and the giant diamond falls into a crevice … it looks like there’s another dungeon below the one you’ve just conquered.”)
  3. The big idea here is about transitions from one state of play to another. You might think about this in terms of PC level. The trilogy that drives PC’s from 1st through 3rd level will be different from the one that drives them from 4th to 6th level. When the PC’s move from the “basic” levels to the “expert” levels, they leave who they were behind in some ways and must enter a larger, more complex and more dangerous world. The old game had this in mind with the idea of hitting name level and building strongholds – the old life of wandering adventurer would end, and the new life of settled ruler begins. In play, this was also a transition from RPG to wargame.
  4. alternatefuturesHere’s where consequences come into play. In our own lives, there are moments where we have to choose about moving forward – say from childhood to adulthood. We can choose not to, but there are consequences. Choosing to reject adulthood does not mean the world of your childhood lives on. Things still change, and often not for the better. When the players choose to ignore that next challenge, the campaign world they inhabit changes because of their choice. This doesn’t have to be a severe change designed to force them into tackling the next adventure, but it should involve loss and a noticeable change. If in the end the players decide not to follow up, they have to live in the world they’ve created and you can embark on a new trilogy. They just have to accept that the campaign world is different and move on.

Just a notion – do with it as you will.

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Dragon by Dragon – December 1981 (56)

Ho ho ho – Merry Christmas 1981!

Let’s be honest, Christmas and the 1980’s were made for each other … or at least it sure seemed that way when I was growing up in the 80’s. Christmas had a certain magic in those days that was lost by the 1990’s. I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with me growing up, getting a job, getting married and having a child.

Enough of that – let’s see what the Dragon brought us for Christmas …

First, a bit of opinionating from Kevin Morgan

“There is no need to change the monk character class of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.”

So there you go. If you were planning on changing the class, you can stop.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Mr. Morgan in some respects – too often a class is considered “broken” or underpowered because it doesn’t do what somebody wants it to do. Doesn’t mean the class is wrong, just means its the wrong class for the player. In AD&D days, of course, things had to be official, which is why the wrong monk for you meant the wrong monk for everyone, because we couldn’t just have a bunch of different monks running around making people happy. That would be (small “c”) chaos!

Speaking of redesigning classes, the first big article of the mag is “Singing a new tune – a different bard, not quite so hard” by Jeff Goelz. For those new to the old school, bards were once very powerful folks, far more than in modern games. It was a tough class to qualify for and as is mentioned in the article, the revised bard class of the Player’s Handbook took forever to  enter – one had to go through a succession of other classes first. The article here tries to make a slightly less powerful bard that can be played right from first level like any other character.

A couple takeaways: First, the opening vignette has two of the greatest character names ever: Jake Armageddon, half-orc fighter/assassin and Alphonse Armageddon, half-orc cleric/assassin. I salute you Mr. Goelz.

Second, the bard in this article is a great class that is very playable. It won’t be a stranger to many players of modern iterations of D&D – d6 for Hit Dice, some skills, some fighting ability, some spellcasting (illusionist and druid). Good stuff, especially if you’re running first edition and a weird-o like me comes along wanting to play a bard.

Bill Howell follows up the first article with “Songs instead of spells”. Here, Mr. Howell introduces “songs of power” sung by the bard in place of spells, with a complete song list and some details of songs not already covered as existing spells. Here’s one, done up as a spell for Blood & Treasure:

Satire (Conjuration)

Level: Bard 5          Range: Special          Duration: Special

This song is used against a prominent public figure who behaves incorrectly. The target of the spell has his or her charisma score halved until they atone for their misdeeds … unless their deeds are not really misdeeds. If the target’s actions are not truly objectionable in the moral climate of the region, the bard’s charisma is halved instead until they move at least 50 leagues away, and they may not return to the region for one full year.

This spell is actually right up my alley.

“Map hazard, not haphazard” by William Hamblin is one of those articles that has slightly lost its efficacy with time. It concerns using topographic maps in fantasy games – a good idea and a good discussion – but also includes addresses one can use to order sample maps. The internet has made finding maps like these much easier.

A touching sentiment

Gary Gygax’s “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” in this issue covers protection circles (and the like) plus news from the northern Flanaess. It includes some illustrations and descriptions of magic circles and pentagrams, and God knows this article would have run afoul of the “D&D is Satanic” crowd back in the day. I can remember it being included in the old Greyhawk box set. He also describes the Wolf Nomads, Bandit Kingdoms, Duchy of Tenh and Rovers of the Barrens, all of which shows up in the box set as well. Brings back good memories of a wide-eyed kid reading this stuff and realizing that making up a whole world was something you could actually do.

The big feature this issue is a Top Secret scenario called “Mad Merc” – a mission set on a tropical island. It is written by Merle M Rasmussen and James Thompson, and whether you play TS or not, the materials here are super useful and there is a metric ton of it – maps, descriptions of complexes, etc. There’s a nuclear-powered drydock, native peoples caught in the crossfire and a “mad merc” named Strikewell.

The Dragon’s Bestiary this issue features Lewis Pulsipher‘s shroom, which isn’t a mushroom man, but rather a creature that looks something like a thin bear with a dog-like head that can dimension door and prefers capturing foes and holding them for ransom rather than outright killing them.

Shroom, Medium Monster: HD 4+3, AC 14, ATK 2 paws (1d6), MV 30′, AL Neutral (CN), INT low, CL/XP 5/500, NA 1d8, SA-Dimension door, subdue, surprise (4 in 6), hug.

Richard Lucas’ colfel is a big, fearsome beetle from the Negative Energy Plane, which means level drain ladies and gentlemen. Michael C. Reed’s gem vars are humanoid creatures composed of precious stones and created by magic-users. I like all of these monsters, any one of which could be a great addition to a game filled with players who have read the existing monster manuals cover to cover. I think surprises are what makes playing these rpgs fun.

Dragon 56 also has reviews of Task Force Games’ Survival/The Barbarian (positive, but the reviewer thinks they’re too simple for some gamers), Dawn of the Dead (“The game is fast-paced and a fair amount of fun, despite its decidedly macabre nature”) and GDW’s The Argon Gambit/Death Station (very positive) and Fighting Ships: Traveller Supplement 9, which the reviewer found interesting reading, but maybe not super useful for the rpg itself.

There are also book reviews, a holiday gift-giving section focused on books and the continuation of a series that looks at game design.

All in all, not an exciting issue, but I liked the bard class and the bestiary was good.

As always, I leave you with Wormy – have fun and be kind to one another.

You’re seeing Tramp take it to another level here

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The Antiquarian – Thumbnail Class Sketch

When I forget my phone at home, I usually spend lunch writing in a little notebook rather than reading. Today I had a few ideas for a class, which I present before in “thumbnail sketch” format, rather than fully realized.

This fellow will probably find his way into Esoterica Exhumed in a more fleshed-out form.

The Antiquarian …

– Rolls d4 for hit points

– Fights and saves like a magic-user

– Can read obscure languages

– Collects dusty tomes, books, scrolls – carries them on his back, so he’s hunched over – provides protection from back stabs

– Can call up the ghosts of the past to help him (knowledge, fighting, etc. – “Julius Caesar, I choose you”) – I figure this will work a little like an illusionist’s shadow conjuration spells

– Legend lore, as a bard (or more so)

– Use magic scrolls to cast spells; can always identify potions and scrolls

– Can recall ways to fight monsters (“Egad, I nearly forgot that ogres are allergic to dust mites”) – while fighting a monster, but only if the group doesn’t have what they need – they can use the method in future fights, though, and get a +1 to hit the monster

– Has bad eyesight from all the reading – easier to surprise

– Resistance to magic – 3% per level to divination, enchantment and illusion; 1% per level to necromancy, transmutation, etc.

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Downtime and Special Guest Heroes [Notion]

Yesterday, I had an idea about how one could model a magic-user taking time off from adventuring to research spells or make magic items. It occurred to me that the mechanic could also be used to balance adventurers belonging to organizations. Here’s the idea in a nutshell:

Magic-users should be able to get a palpable advantage from researching spells and making magic items. In the “real world”, we have to make trade offs in terms of time – you can study to become a doctor, or to become a lawyer, for example, but probably not at the same time. If you choose one pursuit, you miss out on another.

“You’ll have to slay the dragon without me, I’m busy.”

In games, this can be tricky. You can declare that the spell research will take a month of time, which is a month the magic-user cannot spend adventuring … but so what. The group merely schedules their next adventure for one month from now (in game time) and they go on their merry way.

Of course, this can be an obstacle in the course of some games, when the group has a limited amount of time to crack a code or stop an invasion. More often, it’s no obstacle at all – perhaps some money that must be spent for room and board, and nothing else.

Here’s an idea for how you can model this without entirely disrupting the game.

Downtime for Research and Development

Say our resident magic-user, Merlyn, wants to research the invisibility spell. The GM can decide that this will take Merlyn away from adventuring for, say, two game sessions. That means two meetings of the players to play the game. No XP or treasure for Merlyn while he’s busy hunched over dusty tomes learning how to become invisible.

In the meantime, the party hosts a special guest hero, an NPC magic-user one level lower than Merlyn controlled by Merlyn’s player. This guest wizard does not earn XP, but does get a normal share of the treasure. Each time Merlyn needs to take a break, the guest wizard can step in, always one level lower than Merlyn.

We have now to come up with a schedule for downtime required for various magical operations. Maybe something like:

Researching 1st to 4th level spells – 1 session
Researching 5th to 7th level spells – 2 sessions
Researching 8th to 9th level spells – 3 sessions

Scribing up to three scrolls or brewing up to 5 potions – 1 session
Making most magical items, including armor – 2 sessions
Making magic weapons – 3 sessions

You can use whatever schedule you think is correct.

Other classes that need to train might use a similar schedule. You could allow a fighter or monk, for example, to sit out for a couple sessions so they can learn some new special maneuver.

Downtime for Organizations

This brings up another time commitment – organizations. Clerics are supposed, in some campaigns, to belong to large temple organizations from which they should draw some advantages. The temple should provide some healing, maybe needed equipment or information, etc. To keep this from being an extra ability of clerics that other characters do not enjoy, it can be balanced by the cleric having to take time off from adventuring to serve the temple in other matters. Depending on how useful the organization is, a PC might have to take one of every ten sessions off or one of every six sessions off or whatever off to meet their obligations. The PC gets a benefit, and pays for it by missing a session now and again.

Downtime for Rest and Recuperation

The same mechanic can also be used to model recuperation time, say from a nasty disease or if you are using old AD&D healing rules from damage sustained in combat. The PC misses a session to heal up while a guest steps in to substitute for them.

Fringe Benefit

The fringe benefit from using this mechanic is that you develop ready NPC characters who can step in to become PCs when an existing PC dies. If Pauline the Wizardess has subbed for Merlyn several times, she can become the party’s new magic-user when Merlyn is eaten by a dragon.

Eurafrika Attacks!

Around about 1929, a German architect by the name of Herman Sörgel came with an idea he called Atlantropa. The idea was simple (no, not really) – he was going to create a new utopian continent out of Europe and Africa by building hydroelectric dams in the Strait of Gibraltar and Dardanelles and the mouth of the River Congo. This would allow the lowering of the level of the Mediterranean Sea, to create more habitable (and farmable) land, the irrigation of the Sahara Desert, and the generation of all the electricity the new continent of Atlantropa or Eurafrika could ever need. The idea was based on his desire for a massive, peaceful project that could bring the warring European nations together and which would improve the lives of millions.

Strangely enough, the idea was not pursued seriously other than by Sörgel and a handful of others. Perhaps the idea can be used to fuel a modern “fantasy” campaign, though.

Eurafrika Attacks

The Eurafrika Attacks campaign is going to take Herman’s idea and mess with it a bit. First, we’re going to move the idea back to the dark days of the First World War, and give Europe a running start at the project. For our purposes, by 1927 or so the project is complete and Europe is seriously deep in debt. Weimer Republic-style deep in debt. This facilitates the rise of a pseudo-fascist dictator called Hynkel, who now has the power of Europe and Africa at his disposal and uses it to start the Second World War in 1930.

Eurafrikan forces quickly move into the Middle East and Ukraine, and soon they convince a China desirous of revenge against colonial powers to join them. Thus, we get a WW2 with an axis composed of Eurafrika and China against the allied powers of the United Kingdom (who never quite joined the Eurafrikan cause, though a faction of the country is heavily invested in the project and desires Hynkel’s success), the Soviet Union and Japan, with the United States practicing semi-neutrality until submarine attacks on its shipping draw it into the war in 1934.

The Hook

So what’s the point of this campaign, other than novelty. Well, novelty is probably the main point – a sort of mixed up WW2 that occurs years before it is supposed to and without some of the more disturbing elements of that war.

The real hook, of course, is the use of a bunch of interesting military equipment from the “interwar” period in a hot war. Between the Spad and Spitfires in the 1920s and early 1930s there were all sorts of interesting aircraft, ships and land vehicles designed and constructed, but never really used. Now some of these vehicles have a chance to show what they were made of, and at the same time a few anachronisms might make their way into this WW2, especially cavalry.

A campaign could be organized around a particular military unit and its march into Eurafrikan territory, modeled on the film The Big Red One (1980) starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill, which followed a group of soldiers in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division from North Africa to Sicily to Normandy and eventually to the liberation of a concentration camp. A fictional campaign might move through Baghdad to the Balkans and Carpathians and finally into the heart of Europe.

There is also room for espionage in London, Paris, New York and Cairo, jungle fighting in the Congo basin, the Soviet couteroffensive against re-invigorated China in Mongolia, resistance movements in Europe, anti-colonial movements in Africa, or the defense of Japan against a new wave of seaborne invasions from China (will the “divine wind” protect the island nation again?). You can also play on the new geography of the Mediterranean and Sahara, tying in with notions of Atlantis buried beneath the sands of the Sahara being rediscovered, or pre-human settlements that were hidden under the Mediterranean being revealed.

The campaign offers many opportunities for realistic and supernatural gameplay in a period often forgotten due to its being sandwiched betwen the Roaring 20’s and the Second World War.

A trio of Siskins patrol southern England for French bombers

Yo Joe!

If memory serves, I promised to do this post two weeks ago. How time flies! In between, the family has gone through a high school graduation and a college orientation, and I’ve written about 8 quarterly reports for my real job. But now it is time – some G.I. Joe vehicles for GRIT & VIGOR.

I’ve spent the last four weeks writing High Frontier, a setting toolbox for GRIT & VIGOR based on the “retro-future”, or the future that people in 1950 dreamed they and their children would enjoy from the 1960s to the futuristic year … 2000! We’re talking moon bases, space stations, space colonies, lots of cool airplanes and concept cars, etc.

Along the way, I ran across a Wikipedia article on a G.I. Joe fighter plane, and realized I could probably stat those up as well. Where possible, I used the specifications published for these vehicles, and I filled in the gaps with info on the real vehicles on which they were based.

Notes:

Jet aircraft are given a generation [G]. This is added to the aircraft’s maneuverability (and thus AC) and attack rolls during combat.

Damage followed by a single asterisk (*) is multiplied by 10. Two asterisks (**) means multiply by 100.

Conquest X-30 | G.I. Joe 1986

Type: Huge Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 30 (105 hp)
Armor Class: 21
Attacks: 2 x 25mm cannons (7d6), 4 x AIM-12 Light Sparrow AAM (1d10**), 7,000 lb of bombs
Speed: 1600 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 8500 fpr
Ceiling: 55,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 1/0

These G.I. Joe fighter planes are based on the real Grumman X-29 (which appears in High Frontier). It is notable for its forward swept wings.

Phantom X-19 | G.I. Joe 1988

Type: Gargantuan Attack G5
Hit Dice: 45 (158 hp)
Armor Class: 18
Attacks: 2 x anti-satellite lasers (10d6), 2 x BY-106 Little Guy (1d10**), 1 x Bullseye III cruise missile (xxx), 2 x 2000 lb bombs
Speed: 2400 mph
Maneuver: +6
Climb: 6000 fpr
Ceiling: 72,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 1/0

The Phantom is inspired (loosely) on a model that purported to be the “stealth bomber” (the F-117 Nighthawk) that turned out to look nothing like it.

Night Raven S3P | Cobra Command 1985

Type: Gargantuan Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 47 (165 hp)
Armor Class: 19
Attacks: 2 x 20mm cannons (6d6), 4 x SRAAM AAM (1d10**)
Speed: 2200 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 6800 fpr
Ceiling: 86,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The Cobra Night Raven was based loosely on the SR-71 Blackbird (which means Cobra was as good at hacking the Pentagon as the Chinese, Russians, etc.)

Rattler | Cobra Command 1984

Type: Huge Attack G3
Hit Dice: 30 (105 hp)
Armor Class: 18
Attacks: 2 x 20mm cannon (6d6), 1 x 30mm cannons (8d6), 2 x AAM (1d8**), 2 x Renegade ASM (6d6*)
Speed: 450 mph
Maneuver: +5
Climb: 1000 fpr
Ceiling: 45,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The go-to combat aircraft of Cobra in the cartoons.

Skystriker XP-14F | G.I. Joe 1983

Type: Gargantuan Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 42 (147 hp)
Armor Class: 23
Attacks: 1 x 20mm cannons (6d6), 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder AAM (1d8**), 2 x AIM-54 Phoenix (6d6**), 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow (1d12**)
Speed: 1500 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 7500 fpr
Ceiling: 51,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The Skystriker was G.I. Joe’s principal combat aircraft (and clearly superior to the Rattlers).

Shameless Self Promotion

I don’t normally do this, but I have three new books out and about at the moment, so a little self promotion seems appropriate. Tomorrow I’ll find some time to do that G.I. Joe post I mentioned last week.

NOD 32

NOD 32 features a new hex crawl that is right next door to the Nomo crawl from last issue. Nomo was a falling empire, but in Kisthenes the whole world might be going straight to Hell … or Chaos. The nomads have conquered the great city of Ishkabibel and are now using its wealth and power not only to conquer the rest of Kisthenes, but to bring Tiamat (yeah, that Tiamat) into the material world from the Chaos beyond reality. Worse yet, the other cities of the plain are joining in, abandoning the old gods and gestating their own super-beasts to go toe to toe with the Queen of Chaos.

Other features include:

A new class that is fitting for this issue, the Prophet is a different kind of divine spellcaster, one who is bringing the news of a new deity into the world and trying to found a kingdom in that deity’s name.

The gods and goddesses of Mesopotamia

Rules for running circus campaigns in GRIT & VIGOR

And some notions on how (and why) to make monsters interesting for players as well as their characters

$3.99 PDF at Lulu.com

$3.99 PDF at rpgnow.com

Pen & Paper Football

Pen & Paper Football is football without the commercials, endless merchandizing and prison sentences. A few dice and some paper is all you need to simulate an American football game. Just find some friends (or play solo), roll up some teams and pit them against each other in League Play, which requires eight simple dice rolls to play a game, or in Head-to-Head play, which simulates a game play-by-play.

P&PF has all the rules you need to play a whole season of football, with rules for passing, running, kicking, penalties, injuries and even off-season rules for team development. There are dozens of sample teams you can use and handy record sheets for teams, leagues and games.

$1.99 PDF at Lulu.com

$1.99 PDF at rpgnow.com

NOD 31

I finally have the paperback version of this issue of NOD up for sale at Lulu.com. Here’s the description:

NOD magazine begins its fabulous eighth year with a full hex crawl covering the crumbling empire of Nomo, a Romanesque city that has lost its emperor. As the empire slowly falls, opportunity for adventures abound. The hex crawl includes three mini-dungeons and hundreds of places to visit.

Other features include:

Two old school classes, the Centurion and Dervish, as well as ideas for anti-classes designed to foil fighters, magic-users and thieves.

Rules for playing poker in GRIT & VIGOR, as well as a gambler sub-class

A host of new “eye monsters” for Blood & Treasure and other OSR games

Plus some ideas on votive orders and on introducing the most horrific concept into fantasy gaming ever conceived … Taxes!

$7.99 Paperback at Lulu.com