Friday, October 26, 2012

Magic, or at least one part of it...

Been pondering a few parts of PG games that I've avoided for a long time...

Material components for magic spells is one that I've never really cared for - not starting off in D&D, when I did come across it (at the AD&D stage) the (possibly optional) things you needed to cast spells were complicated and also rather humorous. And it makes for rather insane book-keeping too. Except if you're in a computer game... I assume now most people either hand waved it or ignored it completely, which is rather a bad sign for something explaining how magic might work.

I'm also rather lazy and enjoy it when players design parts of the campaign. At least, when I ask them to, and within certain constraints - in my experience, players concepts for my games tend to revolve around their characters material possessions and attractiveness to NPCs of the opposite sex.

And, based on a concept from the Wizard of Firetop Mountain, I have come up with an idea that I will test, soonish.

Rumours concerning the titular wizard suggested that his power came from a deck of cards, or gloves, or a spell book. But only one was true, and I get the feeling that was only true if you decided to take a certain action which was almost cheating (hint - burn the deck of cards - but if it was the basis of all his magical power, why leave it lying around where the hero can grab it?).

Putting all these random thoughts together, here's a brief list of things that may be required for magic to be ... expressed?

- Spoken words/phrases
- Material components - specialised and separate for each spell type
- Items of power - your staff, wand, glove, sock puppet...
- Somatic - funky hand movements
- Singing
- Dancing - think shamanic magical concepts
- Natural forces - sun/moonlight, water, fire, soil, rock, etc.
- Draining life - yours, or others (a la Dark Sun)
- Runes - big, solid things carved on stone tablets you have to either visit or cart around, or something you carve on the spot.
- Ley lines or big conduits of energy under the ground. Very immovable.

So there's a lot of concepts - I will add more as I uncover more off-beat interweb sites and pulp fantasy novels - but that will do as a start.

You've rolled up a new character, decided that a spell caster of some type will suit it well, and ask me. I pass you the list, and tell you to pick two of them, but make them not too difficult to do together. And that is how you will cast spells.

Simple is somatic and verbal, and we can all imagine a mage speaking the rhymes and waving his arms around. It does leave you subject to either being bound or silenced, though, which is a drawback. Longer sequences for more powerful spells.

Rune and an item (staff); cast the spells by drawing runes on the ground with your staff. Really easy if there's sand or snow, a trifle more challenging if you're on sheer rock (unless you have a steel spike on the staff), and impossible if you're floating in the air.

Material components and a natural force - say fire. This is more challenging to picture; try small, loose bound linen bundles containing powders that must be cast into a fire, magma, etc and consumed. The bundles can be abstracted a bit - say each spell requires a different mix, which takes one hour per spell level to prepare with the right tools and ingredients. And the ingredients are reasonably to acquire at low levels, and at high levels there is one challenging ingredient, along with several more common ones. Make the challenging ingredient thematic too - a wind spell needs a griffin's feather, a 'kill everyone with fire' spell needs a dragon's scale (but only a red one will do).

If we changed the above to material components and earth, you have to bury the bundles to cast the spell. But you can pre-bury the resin balls you make, and 'cast' the spell instantly providing you remember the place.

And of course, singing and dancing! The powerful magic of the Unearthly Bee-Gees is feared and respected in the Tropical North Eastern Isles. But they are a little weird up there...

That's all. Some combinations are nasty and won't be fun, others too easy. As in all things, moderation...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Random Post

So, I've gone through all my RPG papers in the wardrobe, and found my printed copy of An Echo Resounding. With the important pages up to page 39 (setting up a campaign area) missing, as they are sitting, somewhere, with the stuff I was working on when we moved. That only leaves the shed, and there are dark things buried there. Like my wife's excess baking equipment...

And so the post today is of some very random notes. Amongst a pile of loose papers (mostly single photocopied pages from old Dragon magazines and sourcebooks) I found a handwritten page (my handwriting - no disturbing horror stories, yet) with two things, possible related, possibly not.

I think the first one was prep for an adventure I was planning, but never actually ran. Perhaps one day.

Idea 1 - Evil Dark Lord has kidnapped the Princess of the Elven City, and demands an artifact of great potential power (and destruction) for her life. He holds her in his great castle, which towers over a desolate hillside. There is a single record of a knight who entered this castle some 50 years ago, through secret underground corridors, but it is likely that they were found and trapped following this escapade. A suicide mission, but any boon will be granted by the Elven King. And boy, can Elves grant boons.

I think I was going to use this to sell the adventure to the players. They were either rather powerful or somewhat gung-ho.

Idea 2 - Bounty Hunters Mission

1. Sent to help party member
2. Sent to kill party member
3. Guarding a treasure
4. Has heard of party's mission and will assist for 10% share
5. Sent to capture party member
6 Sent by wizard to inform party of location of magic item.

I have no idea how this fits in to the mission, unless there are bounty hunters on the wandering monster list. On the other hand, having roaming NPCs with randomly determined agendas sounds like something useful.

Perhaps I'll work on it...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Two thoughts...

Well, EVERYTHING I usually do on this computer is updating or reinstalling this evening, and that fits in well with my plan to makes posts more often than monthly.

Two things that have sprung to mind;

1. THIS.  Dwarf, Vampire, Dinosaur. The natural world is far more amazing than anything we can imagine, and this is definitely a cute little, vampiritic beast that shall be a real pain in some isolated areas.
My version will be slightly larger than the fossil version - about large dog size, some 60 cm (2 ft) high at the shoulder, mostly walking on all fours. It's covered liberally in spines - long, flexible but sharp and penetrating spines, and it has large, slicing canines for eating plants, carrion and any small animals it can catch. Larger targets are gently bitten, and a reasonable amount of blood is sucked out through the bottom hollow teeth. They are nocturnal.

Not aggressive, unless you're wounded and there's a lot of them, but they are curious and a sleeping human body is a prime target for a little drinking. And even if they only get into the party's food supply, who's going to throw out an excited toothed porcupine-like thing?

Stat them like slightly weaker wolves, but remember the spines, the stealth, the bloodsucking and the general creepiness of these beasts. Waking up to something like that standing next to your bed, with your blood staining it's jaw...

2. For Hernshire, I'm working on the towns. I've worked out the towns on the western side of the river are vaguely English, or at least more normal medieval fantasy like. They are likely the settled descendants of an invading force a millennia or so ago. On the eastern side, a more Celtic-French-Nordic flavour, with a bit more variety and strange (to outsiders) customs, and a lot more inter-family feuding, cattle rustling and general nuisance making.

The smaller eastern city has a Prince. No one quite remembers what he (or she, on occasion) is actually Prince of, as there is a Board of Guildmasters who make financial and relationship decisions, and none of the surrounding lands recognise the Prince as their ruler. They are considered important for some ceremonial reason, but no-one is really sure exactly what it is. Most likely a remnant of a time when a strong ruler was needed, for as long as anyone living can remember, the line of Princes have lived in an ornate, but somewhat draughty and run-down stone villa near the main park, and they are given a small stipend so that they can live and employ a small staff to maintain them. Each successive Prince has seemed slightly blander than the one before, and they have long sunk from public regard, though of more as a kindly but senile old gentleman than anything else

Interestingly, the other main city maintains the Prince's Summer Palace, a slightly smaller but brighter stone building in much the same condition as their other home. It is maintained by a married couple who are paid (little) by the City's treasury, so they commonly sublet rooms or run some business from the premises. Should the Prince ever decide to visit (an event occurring on average, once a decade), a troop of guards will escort him southward, the Palace will be cleaned and unauthorised uses and inhabitants evicted, and the Prince will mooch around a different city before deciding to head back.

No real reason for this, but a Prince of little public importance and most probably a big, important secret one seems appropriate.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The new setting, again...

Although we are slowly getting furniture for the new house, it's much smaller than our last flat, so a lot of stuff, including most of my RPG papers, are somewhere in boxes in the garage.

This has caused a little problem, as when I want to look up something, I know it's an hour long job to uncover it, and I'll probably be distracted along the way with something else I find that's equally interesting. And the new job involves a lot more travel, and the inspiration levels are suffering as a result. Still....

Anyhow, I'm working on a small scale 'starting' area, where I can test out various rule settings and blood up new characters until they decide to venture out somewhere more exciting. The first map I drew went though the washing machine in a pocket, and my recreation a few days ago is a little more defined, I think.

The ideas of the last post (August???) still stand, this area being a crossroads between places far more fantastic, inviting and dangerous. There are still many dangers and risks here, though, but they are not so apparent and require far more digging to uncover.  Most of the adventure hooks are minor, and character and NPC connections will be more important, hopefully. Here's the map of a place I have decided to call Hernshire.

No doubt, if you can read it, you are interested in the details of the Grel Swamp, the Ghostwood, and the Ruins of Tharl, but they don't exist quite yet, and may not until someone wanders into them. For today, I give you the concepts of the places off the map - the shinier, more exciting and more fabulous places the young PC's will want to head to, once they are confident enough.

These places are, from the writing near the top left, heading clockwise;

The Storm Cities

Walled cities of wondrous architecture that lie atop rocky crags and desolate islands in a rocky archipelago, they are ruled one and all by mighty sorcerers and master wizards, who constantly war and battle through elemental storms, trade embargoes and astoundingly brilliant spy networks. The cities are large, remarkably cosmopolitan and busy, with diverse populations.  This little corner of the world has the fantasy setting cranked a little higher than other parts.

The Empire of Tarmis

This is the Empire on the Plateau to the North I referred to last post, but now the Empire has moved off map, and the plateau is more famed for the haunted ruins of Tharl, and the dozens of  abandoned castles, towers and watchtowers that dot the southern plateau.

Tarmis is the Empire of Soldiers in Black Armour that Steal Babies. A dark religion that involves some human sacrifice, an underclass of slaves, and mighty and pointless architectural efforts, it is where the PC's go under cover, to infiltrate and assassinate or rescue someone or something. But any daring deeds accomplished here may direct the Empress's attention towards the wilds of Hernshire...

A place for dark and depraved ideas...

The City of Bones

The road that leads east along the base of the plateau takes one to the City of Bones, a high walled city surrounded by waving wheat fields, worked by starved slaves guarded by armed skeletons. The ruler is an undead creature, the bones of a past ruler that rose to overthrow his depraved descendant, and then decided to stay and do a proper job of things. The populace is reasonably content, secure and well policed by the steel armoured skeletal guards that patrol the streets day and night. The streets are clean and free of beggars and thieves, as these, and other law breakers are either enslaved or killed and their clean bones reused as another guard.

It's a clean, safe, sterile and over controlled environment, and trade is constant, although outsiders who offend an inhabitant may go missing... Any PC's will find themselves skirting the shadows, contacting the resistance and finding out the necromantic secrets of the rulers...

The Peasant Cities

Almost due east, these cities occupy a fertile basin surrounded by mountains. About 120 years ago, the peasants revolted and executed all the nobles and their advisers, and quite a few others. Many onlookers, traders and nearby nobles, waited for the cities to fall and order to crumble. Strangely, this lack of nobles hasn't hurt them much, and the population has become more egalitarian since then. They rule through a strange system of representation, and food and goods are abundant and high quality.

They do have a lack of bloodthirsty, armed individualists, though, which causes concern when goblins, trolls and wolves gather in the depth of winter. That's when the PC's come in useful, as the cities hire scouts and raiders to monitor and disrupt any powers that arise in the surrounding mountains.

The Jewelled Islands

Travelling to the south-south-west, along the coastline, brings one eventually to an archipelago of small, steep cliffed islands, all with scenic pastoral white walled villages nesting in green, lush pastures. Happy people with strange, multiple horned goat-sheep type herd animals, they seem content. Especially as each island appears to have a secret source of gems, and excel in the craft of cutting, polishing and mounting them on jewellery, arms and armour. Each island only produces a single type of gemstone, and their crafters have a distinct style of ornamentation. Many rich and vain nobles (and PC's) will chance the voyage to get their favoured items inset with these gems.

The Desert Kingdoms (and Inshilbad)

To the west, past the hills littered with barrows, ruins, ancient battle sites and towers of countless armies and conquerors, lie the sunbaked sands and rocks of the Endless Desert. Within this lie many small kingdoms of robed, isolationist warriors and mystics, that shun outsiders. They compete and jostle for control of oases and underground watercourses, but never through bloodshed. It takes a lot for foreigners to be admitted to this culture, and if so, leaving is out of the question.

The City of Inshilbad, however, is similar, but a lot closer, and has almost none of the resistance to outsiders of their cousins. It is a strange place, however. High walls of pink granite shelter a people that wear white robes fringed with feathers, and white featureless masks in public. They are alternately outgoing and friendly, and withdrawn and depressed, which confuses visitors but is a part of the 'life's rich pageant' that these people believe in.

Study up on your surrealist painters and ideas, as dealing with this city is like stepping into a Dali painting, as their personalities and magic reflect a strange concept of reality. A place to throw the weird and bizarre at any PCs.

That's it - hopefully more on what's actually IN the map next time, and an idea of what I'm going to do with it. I think throwing ACK's system at it might help things...