Into the Unknown

Happy Fourth of July folks! Remember, it’s not enough to value your own liberty, you have to love other peoples’ liberty just as much as your own.

And also remember – two or three hotdogs is probably sufficient unless you want to put on a fireworks display in your gut to rival the one outside tonight.

Now then … I’m busy working, as I’ve mentioned before, on an Old West supplement for Grit & Vigor. I love working on things like this because they give me a chance to learn about things about which I only have a passing knowledge. A couple days ago, I started working on something like random encounter tables for PCs wandering around in the wilderness. I wanted to keep them relatively simple – just suggestions a VM could use to spice up an overland journey. I started out with some general categories of “encounter”, and then realized that I had no idea how frequent these things should be. What to do?

Then it occurred to me … Lewis and Clark kept a diary!

So now I’ve spent a few hours going through the diary and making notes on what they encountered each day, both while traveling in the summer and fall, and camping in the winter. Pretty interesting stuff – I highly suggest giving it a look – and here are the results, according to my encounter definitions (with the definitions following):

Encounter Travel Camp
No Encounter 01-46 01-31
Danger 47-57 32
Ruins 58-67
Herd 68-76 33-34
Predator 77-84
Warriors 85-91 35-40
Settlement 92-96
Travelers 97-99 41-00
Omen 00

Danger: This is a danger of some kind that strikes a person unawares, such as a snake bite, illness, a fall that results in injury, pests, etc.

Herd: This is an encounter with numerous large her-bivores, such as bighorn sheep, elk or bison.

Omen: This is an event that has spiritual significance to one or several of the adventurers.

Predator: This is an encounter with a large predator capable of killing an adventurer, especially if it achieves surprise. In the American West, this is probably a bear, cougar or pack of wolves.

Ruins: The remains of a settlement, such as mounds left by the Mississippian Culture, or an abandoned settlement (see below).

Settlement: A settlement appropriate to the region and time period. This includes trading posts and forts.

Travelers: An encounter with a small or large group of travelers. These people may or may not be capable of defending themselves, but their purpose is not one of violence and the group probably includes women and children. This could be a wagon train, a migration of American Indians or a prospector and his mule. There is a 1% chance that they are accompanied by a famous person appropriate to the time and place.

Warriors: An encounter with a relatively small band of armed men. It could be a hunting or war party of American Indians, a troop of U.S. Cavalry, a gang of outlaws or European fur trappers. There is a 1% chance that they are accompanied by a famous person appropriate to the time and place.

That’s enough for today – I have to prep the dog for the horrors of fireworks tonight. Be good to one another folks – love each other – it’s the only way forward!

1800 – American Empires Revisited & Monster Previews

A couple years ago I had a little brainstorm that resulted in an article for NOD involving fantasy Napoleonic-era wars in a North America divided into a number of competing nations, not unlike the Europe of the real Napoleonic era. I planned to turn it into a game called 1800 – American Empires, and then … well, I got a bit off-track.

First and foremost, I got started on something called Blood & Treasure, and that sure took up a chunk of my time. Secondly, the huge hex map of North America I painstakingly created was lost due to a computer crash (don’t worry, my daughter now has a much better understanding of what we do and do not click on on the internet). That really took the hydrogen out of my blimp.

Well, even though it was put on the back burner, American Empires never completely left my brain. I still love the idea of the thing, and I think it’s just about ripe for development. Now that I’ve put together the framework of Bloody Basic, I think it would serve as a great little engine for the game. (By the by – still need to produce the soft-cover book for Bloody Basic … dang, the time sure flies).

Grit & Vigor still has to take precedence once I’ve finished with the B&T Monster Tome (should be on sale next week, if all goes well). But once G&V is finished, and while I work on the next issue of NOD, I’m going to put some work into American Empires. Four classes (scout, soldier, venturer and magician), just one race, humans (though some other humanoids will show up as monsters, with some options for using them to play), a nice gazatteer of fantasy Napoleonic America (including a Napoleon-ruled Louisiana, Jefferson’s Virginia Commonwealth, the stern Yankees of New England, Aaron Burr’s Texican Republic and those red coats up on Canada), and lots of rules aimed at wilderness exploration (really wilderness as dungeon), armies and stronghold, colony and nation building. Should be a blast, and I look forward to doing it.

Now, since this post has been nothing but a commercial, I feel compelled to give a couple sample monsters from the Monster Tome, art included.

Target 10!

When I started writing Space Princess, I decided I wanted to do a really simple game – thus four ability scores, four classes with three “levels” each, etc. When I came up with 1800 – American Empires, I decided to use the same rules concept, and then again with Mutant Truckers of the Polyester Road, especially because MTotPR was going to be a mini-game for NOD. As I played with the concept, I came up with an easy system I’m calling Target 10 – all tests (skill tests, saving throws) and combat involve rolling 1d20, adding a modifier and trying to roll a ’10’ or higher to succeed. The following excerpt shows where the rules stand at the moment. They were written specifically for American Empires.

A test is a roll made to determine whether an action succeeds when the outcome of the action is in question. Every action made in a game does not need to be tested. Getting dressed in the morning, for example, does not require a test. Of course, getting ready in the morning and out the door in 10 minutes or getting dressed with two broken arms might require a test of dexterity.

A test is made by roll 1d20, applying modifiers (see below) and trying to roll “10” or higher.

Man vs. Man
When a test pits one person against another (or one creature against another), the test is modified by comparing the relative skill and raw ability of the two opponents. Each opponent calculates their Test Value (TV). A character’s TV is equal to their modifier in whatever ability score governs the test. If the character possesses the skill being tested (see Classes above), they also add their skill value to the TV. Situational modifiers, as determined by the Referee, might also apply, but should never be higher than +3.

Compare the acting character’s TV to the opposing character’s TV. The difference is the bonus or penalty applied to the acting character’s test roll.

When two characters are both trying to “act”, the character with the higher TV always rolls their test first. If the TV’s are equal, defer to the character with the greater skill. If the skill values are equal, defer to the character with the higher ability score. If the ability scores are equal, flip a coin.

In many cases, the outcome can be determined with a single test roll. In some cases, a Referee can require multiple successes to finally succeed, usually no more than 3. He might even a bad consequence if either or both parties rack of too many failures.

Example: Two venturers, Juan and Susan, are trying to sway an Apache chief to cement an alliance with their country. This requires a test of the Negotiate Treaty skill.

Juan has Skill 9 and Charisma 12 (+1), while Susan has Skill 6 and Charisma 18 (+4). This means Juan has a TV of 9 + 1 = 10 and Susan a TV of 6 + 4 = 10. Since the TV’s are equal, there is no modifier to either character’s test roll. Since Juan has the higher skill, he tests first.

The Referee decides it will be more exciting to require three successes to sway the Apache chief. Moreover, he rules that if the two together rack up four failure before either has succeeded, the Apache chief will call off the negotiation and have both venturers killed.

Juan’s first test roll is a “4”, indicating one failure. Susan now rolls an “11”, a success! Three more failures and the Apache chief loses his cool. Juan now rolls a “7”, followed by a “9” for Susan – two more failures. Juan rounds it out with a “13” and Susan with an “8”. That does it – their arguing has angered the Apache chief, who finds neither of them worthy of an alliance and summons his braves to take them into the desert and bury them to their necks in the sand.

Man vs. Nature
Whenever a test pits a character or creature against the natural world – for example, shifting a heavy boulder or predicting the weather, the actor’s Test Value is compared against a Test Value of 1 to 10 chosen by the Referee. In most cases, the test value is “5”. Nature, in these cases, does not “act”, and therefore does not make a test roll. A Referee can still require multiple successes to succeed and can still impose consequences for multiple failures.

Luck Points
Luck Points are a simple mechanic that allows groups of characters of differing skill levels to adventure together without the more skilled completely dominating play. A Luck Point can be spent to automatically succeed at any test, or, in the case of combat, to ignore an opponent’s success.

Luck Points can be earned while exploring (see Occurrences below), but a character can never have more points of luck than they started with. In other words, low skill characters can never have more than 3 luck points at one time, mid-skill level characters can never have more than 1 luck point at a time and high-skill characters cannot have any luck points at all – they have to rely on their skill alone to survive.

Combat Tests
Combat occurs whenever two or more creatures or characters seek to do violence upon one another, whether their aim is to kill, disable or knock unconscious. Combat is conducted in “rounds”. A round is roughly one minute long. During a round, a character may declare how his character is moving and how (or if) they are acting.

The first step in running a combat round is for all players to declare their actions for the round. Possible actions are as follows:

Movements: Advance, Charge, Flee, Hold Ground, Maneuver, Stand and Withdraw.

Actions: Defend, Disarm, Grapple, Kill, Negotiate, Subdue and Trip.

Other actions are certainly possible – a player need only be limited by their imagination.

The next step is to determine the order of play. Each person involved in the combat rolls 1d6 and adds their dexterity bonus. The highest score goes first and play proceeds through the remainder of the scores. In the case of a tie, movement and actions are considered to happen simultaneously. This makes it possible for two combatants to kill one another during the same round of combat.

The acting character then rolls a combat test (see below).


Advance: And advancing combatant keeps their guard up and moves forward 3 paces.

Charge: A charging combatant goes full speed ahead (and damn the torpedoes!). They move at triple their normal speed (i.e. 30 paces for humans). A charging character does not add their dexterity bonus to their defense score during the round, but adds double their strength bonus to their attack score.

Flee: A fleeing character runs at full speed (i.e. 30 paces for humans), turning their back on their enemy. If they go after their attacking opponent in combat, their opponent’s attack is automatically successful.

Hold: A character that holds does not move at all, unless forced to move by an opponent’s attack.

Maneuver: A maneuvering character attempts to maneuver their opponent into a certain position by the way that they attack – maybe driving them back towards an open pit or maneuvering so that the character gains the high ground or places their back against a wall. When a maneuvering character attacks, they score no damage, but do move their opponent 3 paces in whatever direction they like.

Stand: Whether the character was sitting or lying down at the beginning of combat or they were knocked down, this movement puts them back on their feet. A character cannot stand if they are being attacked.

Withdraw: A withdrawing combatant keeps their guard up and moves backward 3 paces. They may still attack if their opponent is advancing.


Defend: A defending character increases their DV by dexterity bonus (i.e. they double their bonus) or +1, whichever is higher.

Disarm: A character trying to disarm an opponent does not roll damage against them on a successful test; rather, they knock whatever they are holding (weapon or otherwise) from their hand. The item flies 1d6 paces in a random direction. A disarm attack is made using the attacker’s RAV instead of MAV.

Grapple: A character trying to grapple an opponent does not roll damage against them on a successful test; rather, they lock their opponent in a hold. A creature or character locked in a pin suffers a -1 penalty to attack and defend, and must make a grapple attack of their own to break the hold.

Kill: A character trying to kill scores normal damage against an opponent, and that damage can reduce the opponent’s hit points below 0, killing them.

Negotiate: A negotiating character attempts to engage their opponent in conversation, usually to buy time or simply stop an unnecessary combat from occurring. Only venturers have the ability to negotiate in combat. With a successful skill roll, they keep their opponents from attacking for one round, provided they are not themselves attacked.

Subdue: A character trying to subdue scores normal damage against an opponent, but that damage cannot reduce the opponent’s hit points below 0, leaving them unconscious for 1d6 turns.

Trip: A character trying to trip an opponent does not roll damage against them on a successful test; rather, they knock the opponent to the ground. A creature or character on the ground suffers a -2 penalty to attack and defend.

Combat Tests
Combat tests work like other tests – one compares two values to determine if there is a bonus or penalty on the roll and then rolls 1d20, applying the modifier. If the roll is a “12” or higher, they succeed.

Where most tests use a characters skill + ability modifier, combat tests use three values:

Melee Attack Value (FIGHT) = Hit Dice + Strength Modifier + Weapon Bonus

Ranged Attack Value (SHOOT) = Hit Dice + Dexterity Modifier + Weapon Bonus

Defense Value (DEFENSE) = Hit Dice + Dexterity Modifier + Armor Bonus

When attacking with fist, feet, claws, bites or hand held weapons, the attacker compares their FIGHT to the defender’s DEFENSE to determine the bonus or penalty to their test.

When attacking with thrown items, spittle, pistols, muskets and bows, the attacker compares their SHOOT to the defender’s DEFENSE to determine the bonus or penalty to their test.

As with regular tests, a bonus cannot be higher than +10 and a penalty cannot be lower than -10.

Situational modifiers can also be added to a test roll, as determined by the Referee. Situational modifiers can include a bonus for higher ground, sun in the eyes, etc. They should not amount to more than a total modifier of +3 or -3.

Example: Captain Cole, a soldier, is locked in combat with a leatherstocking named Francois. Captain Cole has Hit Dice 6, Strength 15 (+3), Dexterity 12 (+1) and he is fighting using a Saber (+2). Francois has Hit Dice 7, Strength 14 (+2), Dexterity 15 (+3) and he is fighting using a Knife (+1). Neither gentleman is wearing armor.

Captain Cole has a FIGHT of 6 + 3 + 2 = 11 and a DEFENSE of 6 + 1 = 7.

Francois has a FIGHT of 7 + 2 + 1 = 10 and a DEFENSE of 7 + 3 = 10.

When Cole attacks Francois, he compares his FIGHT of 11 to Francois’ DEFENSE of 10, indicating a +1 bonus to attack.

When Francois attacks Cole, he compares his FIGHT of 10 to Cole’s DEFENSE of 7, indicating a +3 bonus to attack.

Damage is rolled with 1d6, adding the attacker’s Strength modifier if using a melee weapon or Dexterity modifier if using a ranged weapon. In either case, an ability penalty cannot reduce damage below 1.

Ending Combat
Combat continues, round after round, until all combatants on one side are either dead, unconscious or have fled.

The Luminaries of 1800

Just to get folks into the spirit of the time, here’s a list of some of the personalities active in 1800, with a few notations concerning the alternate history of the game.

John Adams (Age 65) – President of the Massachusetts Commonwealth.

Johnny Appleseed (Age 26) – John Chapman, A missionary from Massachusetts known for his planting of apple orchards in the Ohio Country. Follower of the The New Church of the Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg.

John Armstrong (Age 45) – Frontiersman, soldier and jurist born in New Netherland, explorer of the Ohio Country.

John Jacob Astor (Age 37) – Merchant involved in fur trading, real estate and opium; An immigrant to New Netherland from Germany, he becomes the continent’s first multi-millionaire.

Jane Austen (Age 25) – English novelist, has completed Lady Susan, First Impressions and Sir Charles Grandison or the happy Man, a comedy in 6 acts and is working on Northanger Abbey.

Tony Beaver (Age ???) – Woodsman from Vandalia Territory of Virginia; champion griddle skater of the Virginia Commonwealth.

Daniel Boone (Age 66) – Old scout from the Transylvania Territory of Virginia and founder of the territorial capitol Booneborough, he has by 1800 moved into the French territory of Louisiane, to the Femme Osage territory and has hunted far into the “Mysterious Interior”

William Augustus Bowles (Age 37) – Also known as Estajoca, a Marylander who settled among the Muskogee of Florida and now serves as the leader of the Muskogee Republic.

Meshach Browning (Age 19) – Backwoodsman from Maryland; hunter and explorer of the North Branch Potomac and Youghiogheny Rivers.

Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo (Age 87) – Old frontiersman from New Netherland, now settled among the Kansa in Lousiane.

Paul Bunyan (Age ???) – French canadian logger of massive proportions dwelling in the northern woods.

John C Calhoun (1782-1850, Age 18) – Farmer living in the backwoods of Carolina.

Jean Pierre Chouteau (Age 42) – “River Baron” and fur trader in St. Louis, Lousiane.

William Clark (Age 30) – Soldier from the Transylvania Territory of Virginia.

Henry Clay (Age 23) – Lawyer and warhawk of Transylvania Territory, he accompanied Aaron Burr on his adventure into the west, helping establish the Texican Republic.

Count of St. Germain – An immortal alchemist who developed the elixir of life and wrote The Most Holy Trinosophia. Was known as Francis Bacon in 16th century England.

Davy Crocket (Age 14) – Young man from the Franklin Free State, by 14 he’s already spent a few years in the wilderness after running away from home over not going to school.

Don Alejandro de la Vega (Age 46) – Popular alcalde of Reina de los Angeles, elevated to the Presidente of the California Republic.

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (Age 57) – French philosophe; in 1771 he left the French army to become a preacher of mysticism. His properties confiscated during French Revolution, he fled with the Queen and her son to Lousiane.

Mike Fink (Age 30) – “King of the Keelboaters”, born in Fort Pitt in New Netherland, he operates boats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

Hezekiah Frith (Age 37) – British gentleman privateer from Bermuda.

Robert Fulton (Age 35) – American engineer and inventor of steam-driven boats; working on a submarine design (Nautilus) for Napoleon.

Gasparillo (Age 44) – Jose Gaspar, last of the Spanish buccaneers who raids the Florida coast.

Simon Girty (Age 59) – Born in New Netherland, he and his brother were kidnapped and adopted by Senecas; Girty preferred the Native American way of life and dwells with them in the Ohio Country.

William Henry Harrison (Age 27) – Soldier of Virginia, serving in that nation’s attempted colonization of the Ohio Country.

Inali (Age 54) – Also Black Fox, he is the brother-in-law of Dragging Canoe and chief of Ustanali town in the Cherokee Nation.

Incalatanga (Age 56) – Also Doublehead; feared warrior of the Cherokee during the Chickamauga War.

Andrew Jackson (Age 33) – A lawyer and politician dwelling in the wilds of Carolina’s western territory of Tennessee; soon to lead a Carolinian army against the Franklin Free Staters.

Thomas Jefferson (Age 57) – President of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he would like to see his country remain independent (i.e. he is an opponent of the unionists) and spread into the Illinois Country and beyond.

John the Conqueror (Age ???) – Also known as High John the Conqueror, John de Conquer; African prince sold as slave in America, he escapes and survives as a trickster figure. John fell in love with the devil’s daughter Eulalie.

Simon Kenton (1755-1836, Age 45) – Frontiersman born in the Bull Run Mountains in Virginia; fled into the wilderness of Transylvania at Age 16 because he thought he had killed a man.

Diedrick Knickerbocker (Age ???) – Elderly scholar of New Amsterdam.

Konieschquanoheel (Age 75) – Also known as Hopocan or Captain Pipe, he is a chief of the Lenape and a member of the Wolf Clan. He was allied with the British during the revolution and attacks settlements in western New Netherland; eventually leads his people into the Ohio Country.

Kunokeski (Age ???) – Also John Watts or Young Tassel, a leader of the Chickamauga (Lower Cherokee). He is kin to Doublehead and Pumpkin Boy and uncle of Sequoyah. Principal chief of the Chickamauga.

Jean Lafitte (Age 24) – Born in Saint-Dominque (Haiti); moved with his mother to La Nouvelle-Orleans after she marries merchant Pedro Aubry; explorer of the Bayou.

Marie Laveau (Age 6) – Future voodoo queen of La Nouvelle-Orleans. Daughter of white planter and free Creole woman of color.

Meriwether Lewis (Age 26) – Former soldier and favorite of Virginia’s President Jefferson.

Manuel Lisa (Age 28) – Scoundrel and fur trader from St. Louis in Louisiane.

George Lisle (1750-1820, Age 50) – Born into slavery in Virginia, he was eventually taken to Georgia, he was converted to Christianity by Rev. Matthew Moore; freed by his owner Henry Sharp, he traveled to Savannah and founded a Baptist congregation. He migrated with the British to Jamaica to avoid slavery in post-revolution Georgia.

Little Turkey (Age 42) – Elected First Beloved Man by the general council of the Cherokee after murder of Corntassel in 1788; he is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Samuel Hall Lord (Age 22) – Buccaneer of Barbados; owns a castle-mansion.

Makataimeshekiakiak (Age 33) – Sauk war leader also known as Black Hawk; dwells in the Illinois County claimed by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Samuel Mason (Age 61) – Virginian; Former captain of militia during the revolution; leader of river pirates and highwaymen on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Presumably he has clashed with Mike Fink on more than one occaision.

Franz Mesmer (Age 66) – A German philosophe living in Paris, he theorized the existence of animal magnetism and other spiritual forces grouped together as mesmerism – his ideas led to the development of hypnotism by Scottish surgeon James Braid.

Zebulon Montgomery Pike, Jr. (Age 21) – A captain in the army of New Netherland, he is serving in the Ohio Country.

Philip Nolan (Age 29) – Horse-trader and freebooter who helps Aaron Burr found the Texican Republic; born in Belfast and well-educated. Now leads the Texican Rangers.

Nunnehidihi (Age 29) – AKA Major Ridge; Cherokee leader born into the Deer Clan in Cherokee town of Great Hiwassee. Grandfather was a highland Scot. He participates in wars against the Franklin Free Staters.

Thomas Paine (Age 63) – Author, pamphleteer, radical inventor, intellectual, revolutionary. Dwelling in France and planning with Napoleon the invasion of England, possibly with the help of Fulton’s submarines.

Joseph Priestly (Age 67) – English theologian, Dissenting clergyman, philosophe and educator; discovered oxygen and invented soda water, explored electricity with Benjamin Franklin. He now dwells in New Netherland.

Paul Revere (Age 65) – Prominent Bostonian, he meets at the Green Dragon Tavern with the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association.

Benjamin Rush (Age 54) – Member of the Sons of Liberty and a Freemason. New Netherlander physician, writer, educator, humanitarian and Christian Universalist, as well as founder of Dickinson College. Opponent of slavery and capital punishment, the real Dr. Rush would be called on to provide medicines to the Lewis & Clark expedition, including Turkish opium for nervousness, emetics to induce vomiting, medicinal wine and 600 of Dr. Rush’s Bilious Pills – Rush’s Thunderbolts or thunderclappers – mega-laxitives containing 50% mercury.

Sacagawea (1788-1812, Age 12) – Shoshone maiden kidnapped by the Hidatsa and taken to their village in far northern Louisiane.

Sequoyah (Age 30) – Also George Guess; Cherokee silversmith. His mother was of the Paint Clan and his brother John Watts (q.v.).

John Sevier (Age 55) – Governor of Franklin; born in Virginia of French Huguenot blood. Served in the revolutionary army.

Daniel Shays (Age 53) – Led a rebellion against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts over unpaid wages to veterans of the revolution. Pardoned by then Pres. Hancock, he now lives in New Netherland.

Philip Shuyler (Age 67) – Grand Pensionary of the United Provinces of New Netherland.

Venture Smith (Age 71) – African slave brought to America as a child; born Broteer Furro in Guinea, the son of a prince with several wives. He purchased his freedom in 1765. Dwells in New Netherland as a woodsman; over 6 feet tall, weighed 300 pounds and carried a 9 pound axe for felling trees.

John Stevens (Age 51) – Lawyer, engineer and inventor of New Netherland. Captain in the revolutionary army, he is interested in powering boats with steam engines.

Tecumseh (Age 32) – Shawnee war leader licking his wounds in the vicinity of Fort Green Ville in the Ohio Country (founded by Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne of New Netherland, recently deceased).

Thayendanegea (Age 57) – Also known as Joseph Brant; a Mohawk of the Wolf Clan, he dwells in Upper Canada and plots with the French to effect a revolution.

Isaac Tichenor (Age 46) – Governor of the Vermont Republic, a secret unionist of New Netherland extraction.

Rip Van Winkle (Age ???) – Ordinary fellow and supernatural curiosity dwelling in New Netherland.

Daniel Webster (1782-1852, Age 18) – Schoolmaster in Massachusetts’ New Hampshire province. He hasn’t yet encountered Old Scratch.

Mason Locke Weems (1759-1825, Age 41) – American author and book agent, a unionist who has written apocryphal stories of the men who fought the revolution; called Parson Weems. A Marylander, he now dwells in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Eli Whitney (Age 35) – Inventor from Massachusetts, invented cotton gin in 1793 and is manufacturing muskets with interchangeable parts for the Mass. army.

Dominique You (Age 25) – Haitian artillerist, half-brother of Jean Lafitte.

Magic in 1800

My last 1800 post sparked some discussion (okay, two comments) about magic. Here are my thoughts …

Regarding replacing magic because the setting is more ripe for science – I originally thought about going the science route. It was done in Northern Crown and I’ve certainly mixed science with fantasy in other projects, but for this one I wanted to go the pure magic route. Why? First and foremost, I think the “steampunk” concept tends to completely take over a setting and game. I didn’t want to do that with 1800. I wanted the game to focus on wilderness exploration, which (point number two) leaves science types without the use of a workshop or spare parts, and thus forces us to really stretch the imagination to fit him in. Of course, one can also just use magic and call it science, but that wasn’t a satisfying option for me.

Finally, science and non-human powered machinery as we know it today is really just at its beginnings in 1800 – you’ve had a manned flight in balloon across the English Channel and some demonstrations of steam engines, but steam power hasn’t come to dominate the imagination and landscape just yet. Magic, superstition and pseudo-science, on the other hand, are still alive and well. Consider that the medical training Lewis received for his and Clark’s western exploration involved lots of bleeding and laxatives that were 50% mercury (and that mercury in the explorers’ droppings has apparently helped historians track the Corps of Discovery’s progress across the continent), the presence of esoteric groups like the Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Illuminati and the Invisible College (well, the Royal Society, by this time), and, most importantly, the existence of Native American medicine men and shamans.

This, along with my desire to include fantasy-style monsters in the “Mysterious Interior of America” seemed to make old-style magicians, powered down a bit for the setting, the way to go. Of course, somebody running an 1800 campaign could remove the magic or even introduce a more science-intensive class (perhaps the Mechanician) as they like. Once I publish something, you can house rule it to death for all I care!

So, what will the Magician class look like in the game. My initial sketch has it looking something like this (all subject to change, of course) …

Magicians are men and women who have learned through long study and practice to work magic – breaking the laws of nature and delving into the secret knowledge of the supernatural through the use of special formulas of words, movements and materials. Magicians come in many different varieties, from the intellectual European tradition typified by the likes of John Dee, Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin to the servants of the Abrahamic God and the workers of folk magic, be they Dutch hexenmeisters, witches from Naumkeag or Native American medicine men.

Skills: Decipher Code (Knowledge), Identify Plants (Knowledge), Predict Weather (Knowledge), Translate Language (Knowledge), Work Magic (Knowledge)

Choosing a tradition determines one’s spell powers. To work magic, a magician has a percentage chance equal to their skill bonus + knowledge score – the difficulty of the magic (see below). Failure always has a consequence, and they can potentially be dire.

Missionaries, Friars and Soldiers of God
Cantraps: Calm Emotions, Chant, Cure Light Wounds, Protection from Evil (10’ Radius)
Spells (-25%): Divination, Flame Strike, Heal, Holy Smite
Rituals (-50%): Control Water, Control Weather, Earthquake, Holy Word
Master Ritual (-90%): Summon Angel

Alchemists, Philosophers and Freemasons
Cantraps: Dispel Magic, Divination, ESP, Invisibility
Spells (-25%): Break Enchantment, Fly, Hold Monster, Lightning Bolt
Rituals (-50%): Astral Projection, Legend Lore, Repulsion, Shapechange
Master Ritual (-90%): Summon Elemental

Witches, Hexenmeisters, Hoodoo Men, Medicine Men and Granny Women
Cantraps: Calm Animals, Divination, Plant Growth, Wind Wall
Spells (-25%): Commune with Nature, Control Winds, Fly, Summon Animal
Rituals (-50%): Control Weather, Shapechange, Summon Monster [i.e. creatures from folklore and mythology], Whirlwind
Master Ritual (-90%): Summon Spirit [White Buffalo, Rainbow Serpent, Thunderbird – maybe something different for the European folk magic practitioners]

There would also be an NPC category dedicated to Black Magic. The spell descriptions would  include an idea of the material components required. Cantraps could be cast in a round, spells maybe in 2 successive rounds, rituals in 3 and the master ritual over 4. Obviously, we don’t want master magicians pulling angels and elementals out of their hats very often.

That should give you an idea of where my mind is on this subject at the moment. I’ll probably fool with the spell lists some more.

Final bonus – the map continues to shape up. I’ve filled in the Yucatan and some of the islands of the Caribbean and added a few settlements, mostly in the Deep South and in the area of Maine. When all of the settlements are done, I’ll be able to focus on drawing rivers and coasts.

1800 – American Empires

I swear I wasn’t looking for another project. It’s just that I’m a history guy – majored in it in college – and this idea has just worked it’s way into my imagination. 1800 is a pretty interesting time in American history – even an alternate history – and couched as it is between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War it gets less attention that it probably should.

So, what is 1800 – American Empires going to be? At its heart, a homage to old school RPGs and the greatest school video game ever conceived – The Oregon Trail.

Simple RPG based around wilderness exploration, so old school logistics looms large (i.e. how much gunpowder should you pack for a 6 months – 2 year foray into the wilderness?)

Four classes – scout (man vs. nature), soldier (man vs. man), venturer (does the caller and mapper) and magician (with three “traditions” – free mason, missionary and shaman/witch, each with their own small list of usable spells). I’m going to go with the Space Princess concept here of three-tiered classes based on what you want to play rather than “start and level 1 and work your way up”. If you start young (a lieutenant, for example), you begin with more luck. If you start old (a colonel), you begin with no luck and have to rely on skill. Major discoveries and acts of heroism can earn anyone luck.

Rules for exploration and combat – wilderness exploration rules adapted from an early issue of NOD, combat from old versions of “the original fantasy RPG”

A few set hex encounters (major settlements, mostly) + a BIG set of random exploration tables based on the different environments. That way, every campaign will present a different American interior, complete with what you would expect (Native American settlements, herds of buffalo, droughts and blizzards, new rivers, diseases and mishaps), things our forefathers thought they might discover (Welsh indians, cities of gold, mammoths, a Northwest Passage) and things they never imagined (griffons and storm giants in the Rocky Mountains, bulettes on the Great Plains).

A big list of monsters, including many from Native American folklore and some of the “fearsome critters” of lumberjack folklore. I’ll probably also throw in some stats for actual and fictional personalities of the time – Daniel Boone, Natty Bumppo, Johnny Appleseed and Black Hawk, for example.

Settlement rules – what we in the old school would call “domain rules” – establishing forts, attracting settlers, defending the fort from other proto-Empires. Mass combat rules will probably be adapted from Swords and Wizardry to keep them simple.

So, that’s the basic idea. An old school RPG that swaps out the mega-dungeon for a mega-wilderness, with enough heft that one could spin it into other directions – maybe a spy mission in New Spain, fighting night hags in Salem or helping in the Free Mason’s conspiracy to actually unite the independent states of America into a single nation.

Altered States of America – Basic Map Finished

So, I got about 30% finished on this and then started all over – found a better method of translating the map into hexes. At this point, I need to fill in the ecosystems of Canada and Mexico, draw in the coasts, islands, lakes and rivers, maybe draw in some old trails, add in volcanoes (dormant and active) and then drop in all the settlements. So, you know – almost there.

After all of this work on the map (which if nothing else will aid me in producing maps for my Hex Crawl Chronicles for Frog God Games – on sale now!), I’ll probably try to turn it into a game/campaign similar to the Space Princess project. Might call it “1800”, “American Empires”, or “Corps of Discovery”. Don’t know yet.

In the meantime, enjoy the scaled down map …

Altered States of America – Map Progress

Just waiting for one image – for the Pars Fortuna adventure – before I publish NOD 9. Very excited. In the meantime, I’ve been working on a hex map for the Altered States of America. When it is finished, it should encompass a pretty good chunk of the continent. You can see my progress below.

The hexes here are 20 miles across. I haven’t really tackled the coasts yet or drawn in the major rivers.

Altered States of America … A Bit More Info

Well, the teaser post yesterday seems to have sparked some interest. Now I want to give a little more information to keep from overselling it – yes, my brilliant marketing plan is to get people interested in something and then quickly douse that interest. Seriously, though, I don’t want people buying NOD 9 and then being disappointed because they though it was going to be something it was not. So …

Altered States of America
This article is part of a loose “series” of articles I’m calling Campaign Sketchbook. They are intended to be just that – an idea for a campaign with a few details sketched in, but overall leaving most of the work to the prospective Referee. ASA is not is a fully fleshed out campaign or game of Napoleonic fantasy with all the trimmings, although maybe it will be at some point. For now, it is an 8 page article with the following:

The campaign concept. In this case, wilderness delving in a Napoleonic milieu set in a North American continent divided between a number of quarrelsome nations – i.e. no United States, but independent nations like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Texas Republic.

The inspiration – well, I’ve always had an interest in this sort of thing. I think the first “wargame” I ever played was one of my own invention, where I took a map in a coloring book that showed the growth of the United States (i.e. Original colonies, Northwest Territories, Louisiana Purchase, Gadsen Purchase, etc), pretended they were all separate countries, and then devised some manner of them fighting battles and expanding their territory. This idea popped back into my head when I watched an episode of How the States Got Their Shapes. I knew that I wanted to do a blog post about the show (which originated from this blog, apparently), because I liked it, but I had other things to do so I put it on the back burner. In planning NOD 9, I realized I needed another article, and so I thought about exploring the idea of a USA with different borders and city names, and tried to find a way to make it relevant to role playing games.

As for alternate history … well – pretty light on that in the article. It’s more of a “we need an excuse to explore the continent and fight battles, so here you go” than a study in what bizarre historical twists were necessary to bring the Altered States of America into existence. Marie Antoinette and other historical figures show up in the descriptions of the nations of North America, but the historical details are left up to the Referee.

The article covers the following ideas:

– A quick sketch of the idea, which is, in a nutshell, “swap dungeon crawling with wilderness crawling. Party of adventurers with followers (max for each character) is financed by a company or government for 6 months to head into the wilderness and explore it, planting their nation’s flag as they do.”

The campaign is ultimately about working towards the end game of building forts. To that end, it makes use of a Leadership score (level + charisma) that allows for a number of henchmen. This creates the likelihood of mass battles (or mass skirmishes). Of course, dungeons might be found in the Mysterious Interior and explored, but they aren’t the focus. The main focus is finding enough “treasure” to keep the exploration going and thus have a hand in drawing the map of North American.

– A small list of Napoleonic-era weapons and cannon.

– A small run down of Napoleonic men-at-arms – grenadiers, voltigeurs, lancers, etc.

– The leadership score table.

– Quick sketches of the nations of North America, with population number, capital, other cities, form of government and ruler. The countries use the original names of cities where possible to give the place an otherworldly feeling. The base start year of the campaign would be a very loose 1800.

– Some ideas of what might be lurking in the Mysterious Interior. Including pilgrims setting out to found a New Zion in the wilderness, monsters, lost cities and tribes and, of course, Native Americans.

The article does not contain a massive hex map of the Mysterious Interior, but I am working on such a map that I’ll post on the blog when it is finished. I might even try to run an ASA play-by-email campaign, though I’m not certain about how well that would work.

Hopefully I’ve given folks a better idea of what the article entails. It’s not earth shattering, but might be useful for folks wishing to wrap their heads around a campaign of exploration in an alternate North America of 1800. If it seems that there’s enough interest, I might expand it into a beer & pretzels game like Space Princess.

Future Campaign Sketchbooks should include a campaign of mutant caravans on the Polyester Road and JD Jarvis’ Mutant Front.

Image of Lewis & Clark Expedition by N.C. Wyeth. From HERE.