Of Armsmen and Puissants

I’ve put in some yeoman’s work on the Weird Fantasy Edition of Bloody Basic, and, in the process, had some inspiration for what I think I’m calling the Sinew & Steel Edition.

Sinew & Steel is designed to be a version of Bloody Basic with no magic or supernatural elements at all. In other words, it is role-playing in the real (well, mostly real) Middle Ages, with all the filth and plague you would expect from such a thing. Naturally, Sinew & Steel only has human characters, and they may (at least for now) take levels as armsmen (with the subclasses of barbarian, cavalier and cleric), thief (with the subclasses of assassin, charlatan, hedge wizard and minstrel) and scholar (specializing as a lawyer, theologian or leech). The game will feature some simple rules for strongholds, warfare, storming castles (rather than dungeons) and sieges. When you take out spells, monsters (outside of human and animal monsters) and magical treasure, you sure make a concise game, so I’m trying to fill the pages with other useful materials.

I need to get back to work on the next issue of NOD, and I need to set up my own little playtest of GRIT & VIGOR, but I think I might be able to complete Bloody Basic – Weird Fantasy Edition and Bloody Basic – Sinew & Steel Edition by sometime around mid-summer. And, of course, “midsummer” brings up the possibility of doing a Shakespeare edition of Bloody Basic. ‘Zounds, that would be fun!

Now, the armsman … or as the class is known in the Weird Fantasy Edition, the puissant.

The armsman uses the spell casting ability of the magic-user as a basis for using combat feats. I’ve brought this idea up before, and I’m certainly not the first person to think of it, but I thought I might post the class here for your enjoyment and use.

THE ARMSMAN
The armsman is a trained warrior, a master of fence, who is designed to dominate utterly the field of battle. While any sort of historical warrior can be portrayed using the armsman class, most wear heavy armor and carry the most potent weapons they can.

REQUIREMENTS & RESTRICTIONS – Armsmen must have a Strength score of 9 or higher. They can be of any religion, and they can use any weapon and wear any armor.

SPECIAL ABILITIES – Armsmen have the ability to perform feats of combat excellence while fighting. An armsman can perform a limited number of feats per day, based on their level and the level of difficulty of the feat. Armsmen know only a limited number of feats, beginning with three first level feats at first level. An armsman learns a new feat each time they advance in level. They might also learn additional feats from other armsmen.
At sixth level, an armsman gains a retainer. The retainer is a loyal companion under the control of the armsman’s player. The retainer is rolled randomly on the retainer table at the end of this section. The TK should roll ability scores for the retainer and assign them a name and religion. The armsman must pay for his retainer’s room and board. Arsmen receive 25% of the XP earned by the armsman.

FIRST LEVEL ARMSMAN FEATS

1. ARTFUL DODGE – You avoid one enemy attack this round, provided you are capable of moving.

2. CLEAVE – If you slay an opponent this round, you get an extra attack against another opponent within reach.

3. CRITICAL HIT – One successful attack you strike this round does an extra 1d6 points of damage.

4. FAR SHOT – You double the range of a missile weapon attack.

5. FIGHT BLIND – You can make one attack while blind without suffering any penalty on the attack.

6. GUARDS & WARDS – You accept a penalty to hit, and gain a bonus equal to that penalty to your own Armor Class.

7. IRON FIST – You may deal 1d4 points of damage with an unarmed strike this round.

8. POWER ATTACK – You accept a penalty to hit, and if your attack is successful gain a bonus equal to the penalty to damage.

9. QUICK – You add +1 to your initiative roll next round.

10. SHIELD BASH – You may attack with a shield at no penalty, scoring 1d4 points of damage if successful.

11. SWORD & DAGGER – You may attack with two weapons you are holding this round. One weapon can be of medium weight, the other must be light. The light weapon attacks at a penalty of -4 to your attack roll.

12. WEAPON FOCUS – Choose one weapon. For the remainder of this combat, you gain a +1 bonus to hit with that weapon.

SECOND LEVEL ARMSMAN FEATS

1. BULL RUSH – Any opponent you successfully attack this round is also knocked out of your way (up to 5 feet).

2. DEFLECT ARROWS – For one minute you can negate hits on you from missile weapons with a successful Reflex saving throw.

3. DISARM – Any opponent you successful attack this round is also disarmed of their weapon or any other item they are holding.

4. FEINT – Any opponent you successful attack this round is fooled into moving into an awkward position, and is denied an attack on their next turn (whether this round or the next).

5. GRAPPLE – Any opponent you successfully attack with an unarmed strike this round is also held and pinned by you. This pin is maintained until they make a successful attack roll against you.

6. STUNNING FIST – Any opponent you successfully attack with your unarmed strike is dazed for 1d4 rounds. While dazed, they may not move or attack, but can defend themselves.

7. SUNDER – Any opponent you attack this round also has their weapon, shield or some other item they are holding sundered in twain. Fragile items are broken instantly. Wooden items have a 2 in 6 chance of surviving. Metal items have a 4 in 6 chance.

8. TRIP – Any opponent you successfully attack this round is also knocked prone to the ground.

THIRD LEVEL ARMSMAN FEATS

1. GREAT CLEAVE – As long as you keep slaying opponents, you keep gaining extra attacks against new opponents within reach.

2. SHOT ON THE RUN – You may make a full run and still shoot or throw missiles without any penalty to your attacks.

3. SNATCH ARROWS – As deflect arrows, but you actually catch the missiles and may immediately, out of turn, throw them back at your attackers (if they are within range).

4. SPRING ATTACK – You may make a move, attack, and then make a second move.

5. WHIRLWIND ATTACK – You make one attack against every opponent within reach of your weapon. A penalty equal to the total number of attacks you are making is applied to each and every one of these attacks. Attacking five people, therefore, results in a -5 penalty to each of those five attacks.

BARBARIAN SUBCLASS
An armsman with a Constitution of 13 or higher can opt to be a barbarian. Barbarians are wild and woolly warriors from the wilderness. They eschew the civilized ways of normal armsmen. Barbarians do not gain the feats of an armsman and they cannot use armor heavier than maille. Barbarians can go berserk in one combat per day per level. While berserk, the barbarian deducts two from her Armor Class, but scores double damage with successful melee attacks. In addition, barbarians can climb sheer surfaces and move silently as thieves (see below).

THE CAVALIER SUBCLASS
An armsmen with a Dexterity score of 13 or higher can opt to be a cavalier. Cavaliers specialize in mounted combat. They suffer no penalty for fighting on horseback, and gain three special feats not available to other armsmen.

1. RIDE-BY ATTACK – While charging on a mount, the cavalier may attack at any point during the charge – in essence, making a move, attacking, and then moving again.

2. SPIRITED CHARGE – The cavalier deals double damage with his weapon attack while charging on a mount.

3. TRAMPLE – The cavalier can trample opponents with its mount by simply riding over them. The mount gets no attacks that round other than trampling, dealing double hoof damage to all in its path unless they pass a Reflex saving throw, in which case they cut the damage in half. The cavalier may still attack with his own weapon while trampling.

THE CLERIC SUBCLASS
An armsman with a wisdom of 13 or higher can opt to become a cleric. Clerics are religious knights or fighting priests. While clerics must have a religion, the extent of their faith is up to them. One can be a fighting bishop and give only cursory lip service to their faith. Clerics can bless, as theologians (see Scholar below).

Weird Fantasy

I’m a weird-o (if that’s the correct spelling). I’ve come to this conclusion as “geek culture” has become more prominent, and I came to realize that while my interests have some overlap with geek culture, I’m definitely not part of that culture. Of course, definitions vary, so we won’t linger on that. The point is – I like weird stuff, including weird fiction and weird fantasy. I’m more of a Clark Ashton Smith guy than a J.R.R. Tolkien guy.

This brings me to my next mini-project. Bloody Basic – Weird Fantasy Edition.

I know, I said I’d probably do a different edition next, but then I was perusing some Aubrey Beardsley art, and that led to Harry Clarke art and then Clark Ashton Smith and the next thing you know I was spit-balling ideas and writing up an outline.

Here’s my intro to the edition:

Weird fantasy is a cornerstone of fantasy role-playing games, influencing the earliest games and lending them their unique flavor. Born from the Romantic Movement and symbolism, weird fantasy was a reaction to the modern world in which the authors lived. Weird fantasy was lush and decadent and yearned for meaning and release. It consisted of simple stories set in ornate worlds, and reveled in obscure, flowery and archaic text. The weird fantasy author and his characters were like tourists drinking in exotic places that existed only in their dreams. It has in its genes both pseudo-historical romances, Orientalism and fairy tales. Not fairy tales fit for children, but fairy tales that were not stripped of their violence or their erotic overtones.

Weird fantasy is steeped in meaning and bereft of it. It is quiet and noisome and ridiculous and sublime … and makes an excellent place for players to explore and indulge their sense of wonder. Weird fantasy characters are decadent and seek escape from the tedium and constrictions of the industrial age. They are errant knights, burglars, wise women, mystery priests and magicians, entering a world of fantasy through their dreams. They are bent on one last grand adventure, one chance to crack open the bones of drudgery and suck out the marrow of life, one final opportunity to live deeply and truly and transform the mundane into the beautiful … are you?

Does this sound right to you? It’s one of those situations where I know what mean, but I don’t know if I’m conveying what I mean.

Races for the edition, at the moment, are humans, elves (with a little soulless fairy twist), grotesques (ugly little buggers) and satyrs. Classes are the hierophant (unarmored clerics that accept taboos to gain access to the spell lists of divine mystery cults), the magic-user, the vagabond (basically the thief with a different name, not unlike the knave of the Mother Goose Edition) and the puissant (a warrior that uses combat feats the way magic-user’s use spells). Sub-classes are the rake (puissant), and the demimonde, odalisque and traveler (vagabond sub-classes).

I’m still working on monsters – trying to get the basics in (after all, we’re still dealing with good, old-fashioned dungeoneering), with some CAS-inspired stuff added in. I don’t want to go the Lovecraft route because I think that it is a little overexposed at the moment, and it tends to dominate. Alignment is replaced by passions, which are dangerous to indulge (one loses wisdom or constitution, as over-indulgence leads characters to madness or physical degredation) but are worth bonus XP when they are indulged. I might switch out the bonus XP for special abilities, though – something more palpable and flavorful that just raw numbers.

I might mess with spell names, treasure and the weapons and armor to use more archaic, ornate language, a la Clark Ashton Smith. I say I might, because I’m not sure if that’s just adding complexity without adding enough flavor to make it worth while.

So, what else? And what public domain art would make for a good cover image? I’d love to hear some ideas from the peanut gallery – make sure this edition is all it could be. Let me know in the comments or on G+, if you would be so kind. Thanks!

Five Years and 400 Followers Later …

Image found HERE

Five years (and a few days) ago, I decided to start a blog. My first blog post went a little something like this …

“The Land of Nod is an old school rpg campaign I’ve been running for the past few years, initially using the 3rd edition of D&D, and then moving to the Castles & Crusades system and finally to something between Castles & Crusades and the excellent Swords & Wizardry clone of the original D&D rules. It seems as I get older, I look for ways to simplify my life – less static and more living.

The Land of Nod is my attempt at making a setting that allows players and referees to get down to the business of playing games. It doesn’t have a grand, thousand page history to memorize, or abundant restrictions on what you can play and how. It is a grand sandbox with all the requisites for the heroic adventures that have driven people’s imaginations for decades. Most importantly, it is a collection of places to see and things to do.

Over the coming months (and years?), this blog will serve as a place I can present my little imaginary world, and maybe a few notions that other role-players will find useful. So, consider this my entry into the Old School Renaissance.”

I was in the Swords & Wizardry camp back then (blessed be the name of Matthew J. Finch).

My plan at the time was to write hex crawls and other Land of Nod-oriented things and post them on the blog. About a month into it, I decided that hex crawl stuff was going to be tough for people to use if it was on a blog, so I thought about doing a quick Word document each month to collect that month’s material in one place. Then I thought … why not a PDF? Then I thought … why not publish it?

So, not long after the blog started, the NOD magazine started, with 25 issues now completed. In between, I also wrote a few games (Pars Fortuna, Mystery Men!, Space Princess, Blood & Treasure, Bloody Basic, Greatsword), had a chance to work with Frog God Games (I’d like to do more of that), and I’m working on getting another game, Grit & Vigor, published. Pretty sweet.

If this sounds like something you want to do, do it. It will probably not get much easier than it is now to write and publish your own material, provided you are willing to put in the time and effort.

I usually miss these anniversaries, but today I noticed that I finally hit 400 followers, so I figured I’d take note of this one. I want to thank all my readers over the years, especially the ones who have encouraged me with kind words and the ones who have actually forked over their cold, hard cash for something I’ve written, for supporting me. My plan is still to write up the entire Land of Nod in hex crawl form. If I live long enough, I think I can get it done!

In other news …

ITEM: MOTHER GOOSE IS MY TREASURE KEEPER

I’m almost finished with my Mother Goose edition of Bloody Basic. Just finishing up some layout and editing and putting on the finishing touches to the text. This weekend is going to be busy (Viva Las Vegas show and Easter), but if I find a few spare moments I’ll get the PDF version up for sale.

The Chaos edition is probably next … though I might veer into the Jules Verne-esque Victoriana edition. Don’t know yet.

ITEM: HEY LADIES

It occurred to me today that it might be fun to do a Bloody Basic edition illustrated by women. It could put a light female spin to the game classes (maybe amazon instead of fighter, or amazon and oracle as sub-classes). The question – how to do it without involving stereotypes one way or the other – just good old fashioned fantasy role playing with art involving female characters by female artists. To women out there reading this blog, I’d love to hear from you if this sounds interesting to you. I’ve been perusing some of my favorite women artists on DeviantArt to approach for commissions, but suggestions from the assembled Nodians are always appreciated.

ITEM: NOD 25 IN PRINT

Yep, got NOD 25 up for sale in print today. Check it out if that sort of thing floats your boat.

ITEM: SCOTTISH GLOSSARY

Saw a glossary from an old book of Scottish fairy tales today. A few excerpts:

Baudrons: Scotch name for a cat

Ben: A mountain peak

Bonnet-piece: An old Scottish coin

Cantrip: A freak, or wilful piece of trickery

Clout: A blow

Cutty-pipe: A short clay pipe

Eldritch: Weird

Emprise: An enterprise

Gled: A hawk

Gloaming: The twilight

Louping-on-stane: A stone from which to mount a horse

Unchancy: Uncanny

Wight: A person

Unicorns: Ancient Scottish coins

Also this:

“Finlay the hunter lived with his sister in a lonely little house among the mountains, and near at hand there were giants who were descendants of Beira. This giant clan was ruled over by a hag-queen who was very old and fierce and cunning. She had great stores of silver and gold in her cave, and also a gold-hilted magic sword and a magic wand. When she struck a stone pillar with this wand it became a warrior, and if she put the gold-hilted sword into his hand, the greatest and strongest hero in the world would be unable to combat against him with success.”

Killer magic item, that wand.