Sunday, February 27, 2011

B2 Keep on the Borderlands: Declared "An Endearingly Bad Module"---by ............?

"It really is too late to warn you about this one, isn't it?

Better late than never.

The Keep on the Borderlands (KotB) literally serves as exhibit A in the great case against Dungeons and Dragons. Rife with crimes against logic, coherence and good roleplaying, a reviewer can only look at this product the same way that a traffic cop looks at a ten car pile-up: with an eye on how this happened and who's to blame.

First, let's point out what makes this module so endearingly bad:"

Note: This is not this blog owner's opinion....

Read the rest here, and note the author.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Open Poll Question Related to pdf's, as Opposed to WOTC's Ninja Market Research Disguised as a Poll

So I'm over reading Mike Mearls' latest article called Miniature Madness, and it was interesting. His opinion in the article also shows he leans old school in terms of some game style preferences. There was a poll at the end which interested me. So I clicked my answer, while wondering what everyone else would say. Then I looked for a result, to see how my answer compared to the rest. And I couldn't find the poll results anywhere.


All I got was a "Your vote has been recorded!" msg.

Maybe I'm a retard, or maybe one of my many Firefox add-ons is blocking it, but I can't find a link to the results anywhere, not even in the discussion associated with that article. If it's buried somewhere else, or right in front of my face and I'm missing it, please let me know and I'll happily eat crow. Shit, It wouldn't even be the first time today I had to.

If you're going to ask members of your community for opinions via a poll because it's an interesting topic, don't you think you ought to let us know the results? After all, without our input you would have nothing.

Of course, if it's part of some super secret market research, then the polite thing is to let us know that ahead of time, so we can decide if we want to be part of some market survey, which will affect future products, which are part of a hobby we care about.

Anyway, maybe I'm just being a prick here, but I don't like being part of a market survey unless I know about it ahead of time. Be upfront about it for Chrissake. Have a little integrity. Why do I care? Because frankly I don't trust WOTC to represent the survey results accurately if it suited their marketing needs to do otherwise. Call me paranoid, or a distrustful bastard, but they lost some credibility in my eyes. I used to work for a big company who would do marketing surveys tainted and twisted to their sales needs, or to back-up and give legitimacy (ass coverage) to previously made executive decisions (stupid ones usually). So it's not exactly unheard-of.

If you're going to add a survey as part of an article which has a discussion link associated with that article, I think it's fair for a reader to assume they'll see the survey results so they can talk about it. To go and pull this ninja marketing survey on us is basically just using us for your own purposes, without any sort of consideration or warning. No one likes being used.

Maybe I'm just pissed at myself and projecting the anger at WOTC because I keep forgetting, we aren't considered a community of fellow hobbyists by the owners of the trademark. We're just a pool of potential purchasers. If I had kept that in mind, I wouldn't have been duped. I keep forgetting, they just don't give a shit unless they can get us to buy something from them.

Anyhow, my survey. Based on his last article.

Simple question, respond in the comments below: Would you pay a subscription if that was the price of being able to purchase WOTC pdf's of older products? How much would you pay? What if the pdf's weren't portable, in that they could only be read through the interface of proprietary software?

Discuss below. Anonymous posts will be deleted on this poll and all future polls I may post, as I believe if you want to express an opinion in a poll, you ought to have the balls to attach your name to your opinion.

My take---I would never pay a subscription. I just want to be able to go to a site and buy Temple of Elemental Evil at a reasonable price for a pdf version, without any strings attached, ninja surveys required, or subscriptions or proprietary software needed.

Your take?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Oh Yeah Mearls? Then Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

I just read this:

It's your call for unity letter, all editions are D&D, koombaya, yada yada. It's all useless sentiment without action.

Want to heal some old wounds? Want to make amends? Want to bring more people together? Want to stop some of the hatred towards WOTC?

Re-release ALL older edition materials in pdf. Every edition, everything ever published. And don't do it through some goddamned subscription.

We know Hasbro has a bad quarter. All income would be appreciated. Virtually zero overhead, pure profit. Pitch it that way. Do whatever you have to do. Just make it happen.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Castle Keeper's Guide: Pdf Pricing---EPIC FAIL

It's the long awaited tome---the DMG for Castles and Crusades, essentially. Thought to be DnD Vaporware, it finally arrived. I got my credit card out, assuming I would have it on my screen in mere minutes.

But a pdf priced at $31.99? Seriously?

After what Paizo did, I seriously doubt anyone can ever get away with charging more than 10 bucks for a pdf again and hope to make decent sales. For 10 bucks I'll buy anything in pdf format, sight unseen, just to take a chance. A pdf purchase is ultimately a gamble, and at 10 bucks a good one. For 32 bucks I want a goddamned hardcover book with 3-d chicks in chainmail bikinis showing me just how cold it is outside.

Granted they give a preview of the table of contents on the sales page, but without actually thumbing through the whole book in a store (right, like gaming stores exist anymore) I'm not sure of the content and if it will be useful or not. But 32 bucks isn't worth the gamble.

That being said, the guys at TLG are among the coolest guys in gaming. I like their attitude and wish them all the best. I wish they would do an alternative to the Siege Engine thing, as I don't like it in the slightest, but hey, what can ya do.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Latest Hasbro Earnings Report---Interesting Hints on Direction

Here From Seeking Alpha

Notably, Hasbro had a bad quarter and had to explain why, and what they are doing to make sure it doesn't happen again. My memory may be bad, but this is the first time I recall this happening.

As usual no direct mention of D&D. WOTC comes up in the context of:

"Our team at Wizards of the Coast is already successfully bringing the digital and analog worlds together, enabling consumers to enjoy Magic: The Gathering across multiple platforms.

The combination of the traditional Magic: The Gathering trading card game with Magic: The Gathering Online and Duels of the Planeswalker on Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation 3 and on the PC produced strong growth in Magic: The Gathering players and a more than 30% increase in the brand's revenue in 2010."

Leading me to think Dancey is correct, and this may be the last paper D&D edition.

This is interesting as well:

"Sean McGowan - Needham & Company, LLC

On Games, can you drill down a little bit and give us a sense of where there was strength in Games and where there was weakness, and how much of that do you think will carry forward into the new year?

Brian Goldner

Yes. Sean, it's Brian. In the Games business, if we look at the fourth quarter, particularly after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas, the consumer demand had really fallen off. And we learned some valuable lessons as we sort of pulled apart the business and did some analytics. ...... As you know, we have this great, big, broad portfolio of games and yet, our message is we're probably too defuse, too numerous and didn't have the impact, the breakthrough impact that fewer campaigns might have, focused around some of the bigger brands. And again, something that we're changing immediately as we go forward....

.....Certainly, we're too diffuse, and we're going to tear that back and focus in on the most innovative and biggest game-changers, if you will. "

I would expect less advertising than ever for D&D based on that statement.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More on Classes in my New Setting/Campaign

As for character classes, things in this setting are a bit different than is typical.

All races can be any class, with some restrictions on level based on what race they are. Only humans can be barbarians. There are more druids among the wild and wood elves than the other elven races.

Humans can be dual-classed, in that he can change from one class to another. He keeps his current HP, Saves, and Attack roll, unless his current level in the new class yields a greater value than his old, but all experience gained is divided in half until he gains the same experience he had in his former class. Except as noted above, until his new experience equals the old, he must also only use gear of, and act only as, the new class in all situations. A cleric who changes class from a cleric to some other class other than Bastion can never regain his cleric abilities. A character who changes to the mage class must undergo between 5-8 years of magical training, determined by intelligence, before he can gain one level in that class. Other classes may need training as well for some lesser duration. No one can multiclass into a barbarian, since barbarian is a race as much as a class.

The demi-human pantheons created their races with the ability to be many classes at once. There is no limit to the number of combinations a demi-human can be, though there are level limits.

Training is an important factor in a character's development. Just because a character gains sufficient experience in a class to advance a level, doesn't mean he automatically advance. No one can go to sleep with enough experience to get to level 5, and wake up level 5 the next day. All characters must train for an amount of time equal to 1d4 weeks plus 1 week for each level the character has advanced to. This represents the digesting of the experiences he just had, as well as time training to gain the skills of the new class. In any case, after 5th level, no human can gain more than 3 levels per year.

Level advancement training times for demi-humans is significantly longer, ranging from months of training needed for some halfling levels, to years needed for elves at the higher levels. This is primarily the reason why humans were seen as such a threat to the elder races.

Fighters: The grunt soldiers of any operation, fighters excel at combat. They are trained in all forms of basic non-exotic weaponry and armor, and have been fighting and dying for causes and lies beyond their comprehension for millenia. Some do it for the love of combat, some because its all they know. HD d10.

Thieves: If someone has something desirable, there are always those whose desire will cause them to take it. Beyond the blunt “kill 'em and take their stuff” approach, there is the subtle way. In and out with the item, with no one the wiser. This is what thieves excel at. They can only wear light or no armor if they want to be effective at the sneaky stuff, and they generally use the most basic of weapons, though nothing says they can't learn how to use martial weapons and heavier armor, at an xp cost of course. HD d6

Assassins: Wars have need of assassins. A good assassin can save the lives of thousands of troops by taking out a leader and demoralizing the enemy, causing them to run away to fight another day...or not. They are skilled at the sneaky arts like thieves, as well as all weapons and armor, disguises and poisons. Formerly the black ops outfits in wartime, they have branched out since the last wars, and now serve whoever pays the highest. HD d6

Woodsmen: Deadly foes in their home terrain, whether that terrain be mountains, woods, the underground, or anywhere else civilized men shun. They are skilled in tracking, hunting, bows or other missile weapons appropriate to their environment, survival, and sneaking around while using the natural terrain to their advantage. They are also usually trained in special ways to kill the most fearsome beasts in their local environment. They are rarely surprised by foes, their senses having been honed to razor sharpness by the forces of nature. It is said that some woodsmen have made alliances with elves, and have been taught the basics of magic, while others have aligned themselves with druids and have learned the basics of druidic spellcraft. Rarest of all are the woodsmen who have aligned themselves with the wild elves, and have learned both forms of magic. These are also the least likely woodsmen to wander very far from home. It is said to be harder to progress in experience, the more one has to learn. HD 2d8 at 1st level, 1 d8 after.

Clerics: The once dominant force in all societies, their power has waned over the centuries. In addition to what is described above, it should be known that clerics can wield only the weapons associated with their god. They can wear any armor. All that they seek to achieve in life is for the benefit of both their own power and that of their god. HD d6

Bastions: These fierce warriors fight for their gods. They are considered the martial arm of the church. As such, they follow the church's tenets as do the clerics, but their focus is not on followers, but on conquest for the greater glory of their god. They always operate in conjunction with a cleric and local temple of their god. Any plunder they gain is given to the church for the greater glory and power of their god. They can only use the favored weapon of their god, but can use any armor, as well as any other items their church gives back to them. As a result of their devotion, they are gifted with the ability to cast low level spells at higher levels. HD d10

Druids: Believers in the divinity of the planet, and in her perfection before the outsider gods dropped the abominations they called “life” onto her, druids would like nothing better than to see the end of all god-created life on the planet, even though it would result in their own destruction. It is believed that upon the annihilation of all such life, they would be joined in union with the Earthmother forever. Once all races are either destroyed or worshiping the Earthmother, they feel the Earthmother will have the power to expel every aspect of alien gods from her surface. As such, druids generally seek to destroy clerics whenever they can, and then try to take their followers. Especially friendly with the more primitive subsets of the races, like wild and wood elves, primitive humans, and barbarians (whom they see as their special tool of vengeance on “civilization”), they seek to preserve nature from the destructive forces of man wherever possible. Since the last war, they have gained in followers, since many people turned from their gods, and from civilization as a beneficial force. Especially helpful is that unlike clerics, druids do not have to seek out ancient lore to gain the power to cast higher level spells. The intuitive knowledge to cast such spells comes to them directly from the Earthmother. HD d6

Barbarians: Wherever living is the toughest, and conditions the harshest, there barbarians have carved out a space. They are stronger, quicker, and tougher than most men, but also more stupid, less wise and overall aren't the most charming of people. In general they are distrustful of magic, except that wielded by the local druid. Having absorbed the druids' nihilistic attitude on life, they live to crush the life out of the softer weaker races, and destroy all vestiges of civilization. That being said, there are always those freaks of barbarian nature, who having been shunned, expelled, or just out of some odd curiosity, wander into civilized lands to see what more there is to life. They often retain some of their old ways, but usually are more open-minded (yet suspicious) about new things. Basically, the only barbarians one is likely to meet are those wanderers, or members of a horde. Either way, it would be prudent to step aside for them and let them pass. HD d12

Mages: Shunned, feared, respected or revered, depending on the region and situation, mages are at times the weakest or most powerful members of any group. Many mage disciplines and specializations were developed and lost during the last war. Mostly all that remain are the standard class...but who knows what arcane treasures that shell of a tower on the mountain will yield. Initially the weakest of any class, as was demonstrated during the war, mages can rise in power to challenge the gods themselves. HD d4

More on Good and Evil Missing From My Setting, Clerics, and their Role

My brother and I had a discussion about the concepts of good and evil in the new setting I am working on.  I explained to him that the concepts of god and evil as motivating forces don’t exist in any meaningful way.  Imagine a world whose entire history has been war in the pursuit of power. Don’t picture life as you know it in sunny ol’ Connecticut.  Picture life having grown up in one of those African countries where millions are hacked to death with machetes, where women are raped and their bodied mutilated on a daily basis, where babies are torn from their mother’s wombs just because one tribe doesn’t want the other tribe to continue.  That’s more like the world everyone lives in here.  The fairy tales tell stories like this.  Their history is made up of this.  There has never been a god of goodness, peace and love.  It is and has always been kill or be killed, survival of the fittest.  Even Halflings are more jaded, cynical, and untrusting than in most settings.   If the average level of “goodness and fellowship among men” on earth as we know it is 5 on a scale of 1-10, in this setting it is 3 at best.  People are in survival mode, fearful, untrusting of strangers, prejudiced, and suspicious.  It’s like a dog that has been trained to fight in pit fights.  Go try to pet one and see what happens.  At best, you have groups banding together for mutual protection and safety.  Trust is hard earned, and comes after a long period of demonstrated behavior. 

Dovetailing with this was Clovis’ question about my most recent post, wherein she asked “If there is no active role of the gods or divine intervention; what is the purpose of the cleric?  Who is to counterbalance dark magic and demonic forces?”

That question assumes clerics play a role of good guy against bad guy.  The active role of clerics in my setting is to gain power through might, gold, and magic in this world, in order to attract followers for their gods, in order for their god to gain in power, which results in the cleric going up in levels.  That’s it.  There are no gods of good, nor gods of evil.  No gods of death nor gods of light, dawn, and new beginnings.  The clerics act more like the mafia, in that they act as a force of protection or aid for their followers, while trying to take other faiths’ territory (followers) and erode their power bases.  As long as the end result is greater glory for their god, the means don’t really matter except on an individual basis, as to what each cleric is willing to do in pursuit of power. The religion itself doesn’t dictate means to an end, it just sets the overall goal.  Clerics try to attack, sabotage, and ultimately conquer other faiths, even at times other faiths of what were formerly their original pantheon.  In exchange, they give their followers aid and protection against threats, whether the threats be enemy faiths, evil demons, or the loanshark looking to collect money on an old debt. 

Devils, Demons, and the forces of darkness are no different, and very often less of a real threat, than the clan of elves over the hill, the tribe of orcs on the march through your pasture, or the cleric down the street who kidnapped your kid, blamed it on someone else, and “miraculously” rescued him in order to get you to convert to his faith.

Turning undead doesn’t exist as a clerical ability.  Any spell with an alignment in its name, like detect good or protection from evil does not exist.  There is no balancing of dark magic and demonic forces, because clerics themselves are sources of dark magic and demonic forces.  Whatever it takes to get followers. 

For example, take the goddess of agriculture.  Normally considered in most versions of D&D to be an airy-fairy type goddess, usually peace and goodness, with pseudo-hippies as followers.  It’s different in this setting.  Imagine you’re cleric of the goddess of agriculture in a small farming village.  You’re the main cleric in the village, the serving the god with most everyone in the village as his followers.  The cleric wants to protect his god’s power base by way of protecting the followers interests so they don’t leave him in favor of worshiping another god.  If the settlement up the river damned the river which provides irrigation water to your followers’ farms, you need to do something about it.  If the cleric of the god of agriculture has an amulet to raise the dead, he may sneak into the graveyard of the village up the river, raise the recently deceased members of the village, and let them loose on the village.  While dead grandpa is killing his baby grandson in the crib and then feasting upon him, the Bastion who works with this cleric will lead a hit squad to assassinate the village elders and village clerical leaders, while the rest of the followers smash the damn, and loot possessions of all those who don’t convert to the faith of the goddess of agriculture.  Since her might is obviously superior to the patron god of the village that damned the river, as demonstrated by the death and destruction they just witnessed, it is likely there will be some converts.

People tend to view others from their own perspective and life's experiences, and expect people to be similar, which is why this approach seems foreign to many. After talking with my friend who survived Haiti under the Duvalier family, and my friend from Serbia/Yugoslavia who survived the perpetual wars there, I know that this way of thinking about and viewing the world would not be at all foreign to them at all. It would be an intuitive way of looking at the world.

Maybe if I didn't call them human, elves and dwarves people wouldn't be shocked at the grim outlook, and it wouldn't be a shock to the sensibilities at how these folks in my setting act and view the world. The definition of human is a broad vague concept, depending on your point of view. Chimps share 99% of the same DNA as human beings, but they clearly are not human, right? How much empathy for your fellow human beings do you need to have to be considered human? People would be shocked at how many sociopaths are running around. Most of them are made, not born, but a shocking percentage of people are born 100% sociopathic---meaning they are born lacking any capacity whatsoever for human compassion. They would feel absolutely nothing if they stuck a knife through a kid's eye. Many of these people end up in jail, but what about the smart ones who know they are different, and realize that because human beings naturally never expect monstrous behavior from other human beings, they can take advantage of that lack of understanding and work their way to the top? These people end up at the top of the political, military and corporate establishments, where such behavior is rewarded because of the success it gives these establishments.

Definitions and social norms change depending on the time and place people live, as well. Consider the Romans—it was common practice to conquer a land, kill off any person able to fight, and sell the rest into slavery. Slavers followed the army around. They would literally commit near genocide almost everywhere they went. It was common practice, normal, and the slave thing was just another way to make money, not only for the slavers but for the soldiers who joined in hopes of plunder---just just gold, but rape and slaves.

Anyhow, if you want to put into story game terms, I am exploring the theme of greed, ambition and power through an rpg. Which I think is closer to the roots of where rpg's came from than many realize, what with the purge of all of that in second edition with the code of ethics and all that. Many people have never been exposed to such a game, and for many it is a taboo subject, violating political correctness.

I know the theme is not for everyone, but for me its far more interesting than the cliché and simplistic battle of good v evil.

(This viewing others through your own lens thing also explains why modern liberals are failures)

Read all columns by that author here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Player Background Info For My New Campaign: Setting, History, Race, Class, and Alignment

Trying to make up for my Joesky failures of the past, one massive post at a time. :)

First draft---whaddaya think?

The world you live in is a dark place since the Wars. The Wars, spoken of for dozens of human generations, are shrouded in myth. What is known was mostly passed down by word of mouth, and likely corrupted by the ages. The longer-lived races may have better knowledge of the ancient lore, but who can trust them?

With that being said, this is the ancient history, as passed down to me.

It is well known that the gods created all of the earliest intelligent life on the world. Various groups of gods pooled their power to create Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, and much later the Humans. This was for the sole purpose of gaining power through the races.

It’s a tricky business, gaining power from your creations. On one hand, you have to expend a good amount of your godly power to create the races in the first place. That’s why the gods joined together in pantheons and did it as a group. The only way to counter-balance that expenditure and gain power in return is to give the creation a bit of free will, and a drive to gain power for themselves. Through worship of the creator gods by powerful individuals, and their followers, that power is then reflected back towards the gods, feeding them power.

Limits were put on the early races. They were given lifespans of hundreds of years, but out of fear their creations would become too powerful, inherent limitations were ground into the very essence from which the races were made. After all, a lifespan of hundreds of years would allow ego and ambition, if allowed to run unchecked, to enable a being to grow strong enough in power to potentially challenge the gods themselves. Or at least peel off some of the god’s followers, which defeats the whole purpose of creating life in the first place.

For millennia, the earliest races walked upon the earth and clashed with each other. They each learned to draw their sources of power from both arcane and faith-based magic, as well as from taking from the earth’s creations what they needed. Dwarves sought power through metals, Gnomes through gems, Elves through woodlands, and Halflings, well, they were another story.

Halflings don’t seem to seek much in the way of power at all. They simply seek to be left alone and live their pastoral lives in peace, enjoying the bounty the earth provides. They were a threat to no one, but more importantly had nothing anyone else wanted. So they managed to survive, and even thrive in some areas. It is suspected that the pantheon of gods that created them simply screwed up, or gave up on them after receiving very little by way of reflected power from them. Maybe they erred and invested too little of their own essence in their creation. That chance that they erred is more likely than you would suspect, because gods do make mistakes, as evidenced by Humans.

At some point, after thousands of years of the original races inhabiting the planet, an equilibrium of sorts was reached, and the races thrived in their own environments, clashing only occasionally. The elder pantheons were pleased, as their power continued to grow through their creations.

This was not to last long. Other gods became jealous. As a result of that jealousy, from the wastelands of every region of the planet sprung forth the race of Humans. They were noticeably less long-lived than other races, which is likely a countermeasure to their pantheon of creator gods giving them virtually unlimited potential to gain power. Such a decision was viewed by the elder pantheons as extremely foolish, and as a result humans were warred upon incessantly by the elder races. They were nearly exterminated time and again, but they learned to survive.

The elder gods gave their creations access to strange and powerful magicks, meant to alter the very essence of the new races, stunting them physically, mentally, and destroying their potential to gain power. These Race Plagues and Curses, as they were described, were devastating, both to Humans and to the original races. It affected every generation touched by the plagues and curses. As a result, horribly mutated creations were let loose upon the lands by way of the humanoid races.

Other pantheons, taking advantage of the chaos, took the opportunity to insert their own races onto the planet, hoping to gain bases of power. Such creations as Giants and Beholders now stalked the land, resulting in even more chaos and war.

Over the course of many thousands of years, the longer-lived races eventually felt the toll in their ranks. Their power waned, and that of Humans, Goblins, and the other intelligent races grew. A new equilibrium was gained in the world. It appeared that the gambit of the Human pantheon paid off, and their races now had a huge foothold in the world, and power was gained and reflected upon said pantheon, greatly increasing their ability to cause other races to spring forth on other planes of existence.

It is falsely believed by many, if not most, that the gods actually take part in the day-to-day affairs of their worshipers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the most influence a god can have on a follower’s life is in the initial creation of that race. After that, the race continues on a course of existence, based primarily on the drive, limitations, and other components of the make-up of the race. A God never takes an active hand in any individual's life. To a God, their creations are no better than machines which they created that either give them power or do not. The gods don't care what they let loose upon the world or the course of the world's events except to take superficial notice so as to fine-tune their creations for the next time they decide to infest another plane of existence with life. They notice us as individuals, or even as groups, less than we notice ants. A simple analogy would be that the gods create the bow, create the arrow, pull back and let loose. What happens to the arrow, where it lands, how it flies, is out of the control of the bowman as soon as he shoots it. Them getting involved enough to let loose plagues and curses through their followers, is an event which may happen every 100,000 years.

Just as the elder races formed distinct subgroups, such as mountain dwarves and hill dwarves, wood elves and high elves, so did the humans have subgroups. Human subgroups, however, were dependent mostly upon where they were created, and which pantheon created them. It is unclear which pantheon created which species of human first, but the model was eventually adopted by all the new upstart pantheons.

At first, the character and culture of human settlements and regions was reflected by the character and culture of their creator pantheon. However, interbreeding and the growth of massive population centers, such as the fabled port city of Lukan, or the Mountainhold of Throm caused a dilution of racial distinctiveness. It also caused the breakup of power-base of the clerics of the human pantheons. Through the pantheon, certain aspects of cultural identity were imbued into followers. Now, people chose to worship one god, or even many, of different pantheons, while ignoring the rest of the pantheon, ignoring their cultural heritage.

This caused great dissension amongst the gods of the pantheons, as they sensed their power supply failing, in essence. They looked for the beneficiaries of that power, and tried to take it back. That being said, Zeus didn’t hurl thunderbolts and Odin. The battle took place on a metaphysical level far beyond human understanding. What the humans did understand, however, was that certain gods of certain pantheons warred within their own pantheons as well as against other pantheons. This manifested on this plane of existence as followers of Zeus hurling thunderbolts at followers of Odin. A battle which lasted a millisecond in the lives of the gods, until they realized what was going on, who they were taking the power away from, and decided it was still more profitable to work together, resulted in decades of war within the human races and pantheons

The elder races wisely stood back and watched the humans decimate themselves. Powerful magicks were unleashed upon the lands, and channeled into creations like owlbears, undead, and golems. After decades of war, the end result was the same as in all wars---famine, disease, breakdown of culture, generations scarred by violence, loss of knowledge and wisdom, and a breakdown of society into rule by those who were themselves rules by the basest of human drives and emotions. It was a time where survival of the fittest was the rule, rather than the exception. Also, as a result, the pantheons of the humans were forever broken. One was as likely to see followers of Thor as of Amon-Ra in the same village. Clerical power was never fully regained after these wars.

The spells a cleric of a particular god can have are determined primarily by how closely he mirrors and acts on the tenets and beliefs of that god in his daily life. The closer he is a mirror of that god, the more power of that god he can channel. The more power of the god he channels, which results in a gain of power through followers and power bases in the material plan., the more power he is given to understand the deeper mysteries of his faith. Most clerics have access to all of the lowest levels of spells, based on intuition. For every point of wisdom bonus, the cleric has access to that level of spells. However, the highest level of spells must be taught to the cleric by an elder, or through some of the great tomes of mysteries. Once the cleric understands the mysteries and arcane lore, he has the insight to use those rituals and higher-powered spells the same way as the lower level ones---he meditates on the mysteries of his faith, and calls forth the power of his god when needed. The gods let this bit of power be drawn from them because they must. There is no choice. It is part of the race creation process, part of the power that must be given to their creations in order to let them reflect the power gained through exercising their god’s power back at the gods, through worship, followers and worldly power.

Because there were so few clerics of power to survive the wars, it was now more difficult to regain that power by the surviving clerics. There was no one to train younger clerics, no one to teach the mysteries to the newer clerics. The younger ones, the ones left behind after the war, had to learn over the course of decades what would have take years, prior to the war.

A human age governed by military might and magic dawned. Many humans decided that clerics and gods were to blame for all the wars and suffering of the past hundred years, and so any clerics of great power were assassinated as soon as they were found. Lesser clerics were kept for their ability to heal, and to help control the members of the population which still had faith, but any of those which gained enough power to be a threat to the established order were killed.

Through lichdom and other foul means, mages were able to extend their lives long enough to gain the power which the elder pantheons of gods feared they might gain. Long life, combined with unparalleled ambition and virtually no limitations on power resulted in the perfect deadly combination of the next era in humankind’s history. Within 500 years of the Pantheon Wars, the Mage Wars erupted.

Ironically, the drive behind the mage wars was so that the mages themselves would be objects of worship, and so be able to gain a foothold of power amongst the gods, whose clerics they worked so diligently to destroy.

Rumor has it that there were 9 mages of power who warred not only amongst themselves, but on all human races and civilizations. The major differences between the this war and the last was that the mages wanted the worship of all sentient beings, so they warred upon all of the elder races as well, or else used them as pawns or troops (willing or otherwise) in their drive for power. The elder races, having not partaken of war in generations, were soft. It was decimation.

Once the dust settled, every place on the planet was scarred by war in some way. Some of those of the elder races who allied themselves with the mages, and became corrupted by that alliance, fled underground, forever changed. Some branches of the elder races were wiped out entirely, with only ruins showing they once existed.

It has been hundreds, if not thousands of years since the Mage Wars. No human I have ever met knows how long. All that is known is that they are over, and have been for many generations. What lies beyond this village, beyond this valley, is unknown. I have only imparted such knowledge to you as has been given to me, the stories, rumors, and myths of civilizations past.

I know it’s your desire to go forth from these valleys and explore and make your mark on the world around you. Your desire for exploration, to test yourself against the world and gain power for conquest, burns deeply within you. I don’t know what you will find. All I can say is that of all of the many who have attempted the dangerous trek over the mountains, none have returned. They may be out there right now, striving for power, ruling a kingdom, or being thrown in a ditch to feed the worms. Perhaps it’s as the old witch says, and a new age is dawning. Whether it be forged by faith, steel or magic is yet to be determined. Which race will rule it is unclear. One thing is certain--it will be forged in blood. Ancient power, long lost mysteries and tomes of lore must be pried from the denizens of ancient ruins. They can only be rediscovered by the bold, held by the strong, and wielded by the ambitious.

Good Luck. Here's a copy of an ancient map which shows the route our earliest ancestors took to this hidden valley. If you look here.....


As you can see, the demi-human races have level limits, as in AD&D. Significantly, the PC's are limited to playing humans in this campaign. The demi-human regions, as well as their history and culture, are just as important and interesting as the dungeons and cities the pc's explore, lost or otherwise. I am treating demi-humans as encounters in and of themselves.

They are not what you would expect. An elf maiden doesn't sit around all day whittling a piece of wood she has been working on for 13 years. Dwarves are not stereotypes from the Hobbit. They all have ambition and drive. In that regard, they are not much different from humans, except that they are less intense. Contrary to popular belief, they don't sit around for days contemplating where to plant a tree, or what to have for dinner.

Clerics of different faiths are often very different from each other in the spells and powers they can wield. As described above, clerics like magic-users have to go out and seek out the ancient lore and mysteries of their faith to gain in power. To do it oneself through contemplation, without a guide or teacher, whether through a person or a book, dooms clerics to lower levels of spell use.

Also, in many places the demi-human pantheons stayed together. In some they were as shattered as the races which formerly worshiped them. In some regions there is fierce antagonism between races, in other regions it is just the opposite. Strange and unlikely alliances have been formed. It is all determined by how the war affected that particular area.

A bit about alignment: Law and Chaos don't exist as game concepts. There is simply “Us vs. Them”. Every intelligent species develops a system of internal order and governance when members of that species gather to intentionally live together. Those systems are as different from each other as the races and their regional histories are. When one group looks at another group's system, it seems foreign. If either that system or race is perceived as a threat, it must be conquered.

All systems of order and governance are based on power and control. Each system was set up to give those leaders of each race a way to have power over and control other members of their race. Often they served a dual purpose of power over one's race as well as a means to gain power over other races. The initial form of the institutions and structures with each society may have been for various reasons, ranging from benevolent rule to tyrannical oppression to sheer survival, and everything in between.

People aren't chaotic or lawful as it has been traditionally defined in D&D. They could have a personality which seeks power over themselves or others, drive and ambition, and therefore they choose to gain that power through the structures of society or outside its bounds. Some may try to conquer said structures, from without or from within, as a way to gain power over others, or over themselves and their own destiny.

As for the means of that acquisition of power, that leads us to the inevitable good and evil discussion. Good and evil as rigid concepts (and therefore as game mechanics, like spells and class benefits) do not exist. What we consider good and evil can be simply defined as what we are willing to do to get what we want in life, in terms of impact and effect on other living things.

All life is inherently destructive of other life on the planet. It has to be for survival's sake. Individuals have a choice on how destructive they are, which is primarily based on cultural upbringing and life experiences giving them an internal sense of awareness and sensitivity to their effectively being as one with everything in the universe, or not. When these factors come into conflict with what we want out of life and what we will do to achieve our desires, that's when it gets interesting.

From sociopathic not giving a shit about human life at all, to love and peace Christ kinda stuff, people run a range of what they would do to others to get what they want out of life. For simplicity, you can rank it on a scale of 1-10, from sociopathic serial killer, to Christ. Expanding upon that, people also have the same scale of 1-10 for what they would do to gain power in terms of who they would harm for: Their own family, their extended family, their town, their region, their country, their sub-race (nordic or asian for example), their race (human) Demi-humans, intelligent life, mammals, all animals, all life on the planet, the planet itself as an entity, the universe as a whole, and so on. You can fill in the blanks. Note: there is no game mechanic for this, and I don't want any numbers or scales for each of the above. Simply pick a personality to begin with, and stick with it consistently, unless it changes in game through role-playing.

All players can be whoever and however they desire as regards to this aspect of their personality. This I will warn you: being all peace and lovey and on the eternal bandwagon of oneness with the universe will get you killed really fast. The rest of the world is bigoted, prejudiced, lives in fear, and acts like it is in survival mode. It's a harsh, dark, gritty place, where such sappy sentiments result in the death of you and the ones you say you love.

That being said, most people don't give a shit about any of that. They lack the drive, ambition, will, and inherent capability in terms of brains, balls, and skill to achieve very much. They settle for a hum-drum life. They exist to be followers, lemmings, only making waves when their very existence is threatened. Most just want to live, eat, fuck, drink, propagate, and die without having to do too much or challenge themselves.

Adventurers, on the other hand, are cut from a different cloth entirely.

(More to come soon!)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

This is a Pretty Cool Con Development for OSR Gaming

I was checking out the details on TotalCon, and noticed that they had a subsection for Old School RPG's. A good chunk of the games are being run by Frenk Mentzer, Tim Kask, and Jeff Talanian, but there are also other DM's running various older and clone systems. It's nice to be able to look in one place for all the old school games, rather than dig for a few in a list of hundreds. Also, by breaking it out like that, I think it makes it more noteworthy. People might check out some of the games to see what the big deal is, in that the OS games have their own category. Hopefully more Cons will do this.