Friday, September 12, 2014

The Kobolds of Elthos

The Kobolds of the Red Hills are hardly known by the human world, and that's a problem.  It wouldn't be a problem, except that the Kobolds are annoyed, and so they're making it a problem.  The reason they're annoyed is because they prefer to be left alone.  But as it happens, the humans just keep expanding into new territories, and building new villages and towns out where the Kobolds have been wont to live for all these many eons.  Why it's just bound to rub them the wrong way, don't you know?

Kobolds come in two varieties.  They're either Woodland creatures that emerge from the hearts of old broken trees, or they're Earthland creatures that emerge from rifts in the ground.  In fact this is why Kobolds are known so well by miners.  The name Kobold, as you may have guessed, comes actually from the word Cobalt, the element, which in its pure form is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal.  You might think this therefore this sort of maybe makes Kobolds a kind of Elemental. And in a way you would kind of sort of maybe be right about that.  In the World of Elthos, they're even called parum elementarium by the Alchemists.  It is even said that Kobolds can transform themselves into Cobalt when they so choose.  Well, at least those that emanate from Earthland.  It is likewise said that Kobolds that emerge from the hearts of broken trees can turn into wood, and often do so during the day, looking for all the world like old mossy tree branches with funny faces.  At night both kinds of Kobolds transform into their 'little human' forms and, well, kind of run amok, really.  

Now among Kobolds there's not only two distinct branches of the family, but there's two distinct societies as well.  And the two do not get along at all.  One branch is called the Su'unkar, and the other branch is called the Shi'inkar.  The confusing part is that the two branches are not divided by whether or not they are Woodland or Earthland creatures, but rather instead by the philosophy of their Clan Elders.  And there's a whole lot of Clans among the Kobolds   

The Su'unkar are not really the big thinkers of the Kobold world.  They're more interested in the enjoyment of their meager material pleasures.  In fact, the Su'unkar call themselves "the soup eaters", on account of their love of soups.  Yes, they really do love soup, those guys.  And this reflects their disposition and inclinations about life.  They try to enjoy what they've got.  Now you might wonder where they got the idea of making soup from to begin with.  Yes, from the humans, of course.  In fact this is also reflective of their disposition and inclinations.  They like to imitate the humans, and in fact do try, more or less, to get along with them.  They call the humans "little brothers", and love to mimic human traits and society.  So these are the kinds of Kobolds that you'll find wearing vests and shoes and little hats with feathers and such.  They can usually speak a little bit of the human language, with a rather atrocious accent, but passably understandable to most people who have a little patience and time on their hands.  But even so, most humans won't really have much truck with Kobolds of any variety.  This is because they can be pretty damn annoying.  Kobolds love to play a little game they call "Tricks & Traps".  It's not an especially nice game, but they do think it's terribly funny.  Sometimes, even, people get killed.  But this just makes the Kobolds laugh all the more.  It's not very nice, actually.  But Kobolds view humans, really, as interesting little bugs that recently showed up in the world, and they kind of enjoy playing with them the same way human kids might enjoy playing with ants, or other harmless insects.   For them, it's really just a form of amusement.  A morose and dangerous form of amusement, but still... can we really blame them entirely?

On the other side of the divide we have the Shi'inkar.  Now these are the true thinkers, the wizards, the old ones and the formidable sorcerers of the Kobold world.  And they're frankly up to no good at all.  Running into them is most often a bad thing, and quite perilous.  Fortunately, there are actually very few of them, so the risk is small that anyone will actually see them.  However, that doesn't make them any less terrible.  They're kind of like the Su'unkar in that they like to play "Tricks & Traps", but in their case the tricks and traps are rather enormous, and slow moving, and sometimes take centuries to unfold... but when they do a whole lot of people wind up dying.  They're the source of all kinds of troubles for the human race over the centuries, though in most cases the humans never found out the true causes of their demise.  And oh my how those old and wicked Kobolds can laugh, and laugh, and laugh.  In fact it's said by some that the greater storms coming off the Oceans, the ones that are truly destructive, have in them howling winds that are the laughter of the Elder Kobolds.  So, yes, friend, you really wouldn't want to meet any of the Shi'inkar.   But if you do, just remember, whatever they're doing, you should try your absolute best to derail it.  Because whatever they're cooking up is meant to do you, your family, your friends, your town, your province, and your entire race as much harm as they can think up.  

Anyway, that's a little bit about Kobolds in Elthos. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Elthos Web Application Overview

This does not represent all of the features, but does give a basic overview of the primary features.  The purpose of the application is to help the GM organize their materials and make game preparation faster and easier. 

There are a number of time saving features that are not shown above that should be noted.   Here are a few:
  • Auto Generate Adventure Groups, Monsters and NPCs including assigning GM selected "default equipment" based on Race and Class, according to the GM's preferences.
  • Print World - allows the GM to print out in one document all of the relevant materials for a Table Top game in one package, including World - Place - Campaign - Adventure descriptions, Maps and Images, and Character Stats in convenient tables.  
  • Combat Matrix - color coded matrix that compares Combat Capabilities for each member of two groups against each other member of the opposing group.   Physical or Mystical can be shown.
  • Experience Gains Calculators - for Skills and for Combat.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Future of RPGs

I'd like to present these ideas to the community of Role Players and would be curious to hear other people's thoughts on this.  I feel that RPGs represent a new art form and that the state of the art is in its infancy.  I'd like to ruminate on the topic for a bit.

RPGs are a new art medium akin to the canvas, the printing press, and film. They present a structure upon which a new art form has been created in the last light of the 20th Century. They bring together a set of skills and prior art forms, mixing them together into a new combination that has not been seen before. Storytelling, cartography, improvisational theater, mathematics, history, science, and fantasy have been co-mingled in an infinitely variable medium in order to create a form of entertainment that can be as immersive as a great novel, as exciting as a joust, as thoughtful as chess, and as funny and charming as the best theater. Can be. However, up until very recent days Gamesmastering has been, despite its joys, an indisputable burden. Creating a World and managing a game are hard work.

Recently, though, we’ve begun to see a new set of tools online that seem to offer help with the various aspects of GMing that make it difficult. And even better tools are on the way. These tools will make it easier over time for Gamesmasters to create and host their worlds, either at home with their friends or online for anyone who is connected to the Internet. Roll20, TavernKeeper, Obsidian Portal, PC Gen, Fantasy Ground and Realm Works, to name a few, are software applications that take various aspects of the GM’s tasks and either automate them or help manage them. New systems will come online as well. Among them will be mine. It’s a system called Elthos RPG. I’m very proud to be among the pioneers in this new art.

I believe that the future of RPGs is very bright. The reason why is because no other activity brings together such a plethora of skills and arts into one comprehensive whole and makes something as fabulous as the social experience of creating a story with your friends. While many RPGs focus on combat and tactics, there are others that produce amazing stories out of the game play. It is toward these experiences that I think the future is leaning.

I imagine a future in which Gamesmasters will be able to host worlds online for thousands of players at a time. Teams of Gamesmasters will be able to co-create and co-GM these worlds, keeping them alive with ever changing story lines, and building histories out of what the Player Characters do. I envision being able to play in these worlds via optical interfaces that bring together artwork, music, and story craft into one comprehensive medium upon which Gamesmasters and World Weavers will be able to paint fantastic universes. We will no longer go to the movies – we will be our own main Characters in the movies… or in the game.

I believe that to fulfill this vision some Gamesmasters will rise to a level of skill and mastery of the art that will allow them, compel them in fact, towards a career of Professional Gamesmastering. And I think that the confluence of creativity and skills necessary to do so, along with the tools that are being prepared for it, will bring us into a new age of creative endeavor where the lines between authors and actors, artists and musicians, story tellers and the audience will blur and dissolve. We will become the art, and the art will become us.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this grand experiment and experience. I look forward to this future with great anticipation.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Some Thoughts on RPGPundit's Gnostic Musings

The thoughts that follow are a response to RPGPundit's post on his blog, titled “Real Magick” in RPGs, Continued.. To recap Pundit's post briefly he is writing about how one might go about creating an RPG Rules System for "Real Magic" the way it is actually practiced by real world Magicians.  He's done a lot of research on the topic, and has really great insights, which are absolutely worth reading.  So I have to recommend reading his post before you read this reply.   It's worth the time you'll take to do so.  And what I say below won't make very much sense if you don't read his first, as well.  This post started out as a reply, but then I felt it became too long to reasonably post as a comment on Pundit's blog, so I am posting it here. 

Additionally, you may want to read my previous post on the Elthos Alignment System as well, as this explains the basis of some of my comments to follow...  Ok, here we go...


I really admire Pundit's concept. It contains a number of really great insights and it raises truly fascinating questions. Here are my thoughts on it.

One is that I don't think every Gnosis is produced necessarily by what I would call a "Shock". Some events, like Satori, are simply an experience of Enlightenment, and so calling them a "Shock" would not necessarily reflect the nature of the experience, which may be more like a sudden awakening to truth than what we think of as a "shock" (ie - a harmful jolt). I'm not sure what word to use that would cover both extremes ... Illumination might work, as it suggests throwing light on something. Sometimes it can be shocking, sometimes it might be revealing. So I can see an Axis of the impact of Illuminating experiences.  When Pundit uses the word "Shock" by the way, he means that it jolts you out of "normal" consciousness.  My objection is that exiting "normal" consciousness is not always best described as a "shock" though it certainly can be.  I prefer something more of an umbrella term.  Illumination may be better for me.

Another distinction I’d like to draw is that I don’t think that Gnosis only comes from the Illuminating ‘shocks’ or ‘satori’. It was said by Jesus that “unless ye become like these little children, ye shall in no way find the Kingdom of Heaven.” My feeling is this is an allusion to the idea that children, infants in particular, are born into a state of Awareness that gets diminished over time. The Quest for Gnosis is the Quest to find what one has lost, and no longer can remember. So in that sense I question the proposition that Gnosis is a product of “Shocks” but rather I wonder if the “Shocks” don’t actually work the other way – they are the ‘Hard Knocks” of life that eventually whittle away Gnosis, and so by the time you are a rational young person who goes to school and does their homework on time, you’ve significantly lost touch with the Mystical / Spiritual Universe. So I’m kind of tossing that around in my head as well. It seems to fit in with my thoughts regarding the use of the word “Illumination” for events that cause Gnosis. “Shocks” might be considered as events that diminish Gnosis and produce Ego, instead. Still tooling, but that seems like it might work for me.

Another thought that this brings to mind is that I think there is a conflation in Pundit's analysis between the Spiritual and the Magical impulses. I might prefer to separate those two. To my mind the Spiritual path is related to the quest for Enlightenment. On the other hand, while Magicians may wish to seek "Oneness with the Universe", for them the problem may be one of over-adherence to the Ego, and hence perhaps the Magician is really seeking Power, not Enlightenment.

In my original Elthos Rules system (prior to the ODS), I had a distinction between these two in the realm of mysticism, in so far as there is a mystical energy called Mana. This can either be aligned (by a God, aka Elkron), or unaligned, requiring the will of a Magician to shape it into a useful form. Clerics are those who draw on the Aligned Mana of their Deity, while Magicians are those who use their Ego to align Mana into a form themselves. In every case, it requires an Ego to Align (or shape) the Mana into a useful form. So for my concept I'd be likely to want to separate the quest for Enlightenment (Gnosis) from the quest for Power (Ego), and this would be the fundamental distinction between the Spiritual and Magical paths.  As such Clerics would be trying to subdue their Ego in a drive towards Gnosis, while a Magician would be trying to enhance their Power by augmenting their Ego, with a disregard for "whatever Gnosis might be".  Not that I would, as GM, sit in judgement ... both have their uses, and both are necessary in the Universe. After all, even the Gods have Ego, and without Ego there would be no development of civilization, no social interaction, and basically nothing much of interest at the finite level of existence. Then again, it also clearly causes problems as well. But that's the nature of life, and those conflicts are a natural by product of distinction to begin with, and without it we would, as beings, not have the opportunity to surpass our current state, learn anything, and evolve.  So in my view, both Gnosis and Ego are imperatives of the Universal Order.

So from a system point of view I am thinking of the following based on Pundit's insights, but with my own slant on it.

Awareness (Gnosis --- Ego)
Rationality (Sanity --- Psychosis)

Compulsion, for example, would be one of any number of possible effects of psychosis.  Other possible effects could be hallucinations, delusions, and/or schizophrenia.  (As an aside I should say that these would be very interesting to Gamesmaster.  Would you tell the Player "Your Character begins to suffer from psychosis"?  I think I would rather play it out ... so I explain the Character sees such and such white rabbit on the window sill with a red ribbon and red pupils and it stares at him and then hops away.  The Player wouldn't necessarily know if the Character is suffering hallucinations, or if the rabbit is some mystical totem he's been obsessing over meeting.  The possiblities are endless, and rather amusing, so long as it is handled well.  And of course, that utterly depends on the style of campaign, the genre, and many other factors besides.)

On the Sanity side I agree with the idea that Pundit puts forward that to be a socially successful person you need to have Sanity.  People who are in a state of Gnosis, but have no grounding in reality, wind up being, from the point of view of everyone else, weird, incomprehensible and ultimately unapproachable.   And yet Society needs people who have achieved Gnosis in order to learn what to aspire towards.  Concepts of Peace, Justice, Goodness and Compassion all come from those who had once upon a time achieved Gnosis, and Society owes an everlasting debt to them.  Otherwise we would still be living with The Law of the Jungle, wherein only Might Makes Right, and that would, in a word, suck.

I think for this system I might consider having 0 as the center point, and positive and negative values on each end of each axis, lets say 10 to -10.  So with this in mind I could give a Character a value such as (2, -2) which would suggest a Liberated level of Gnosis, yet a falling into some kind of mild form of psychosis (a tendency towards Obsession, for example, would certainly do).

Such a system would parallel my Elthos Alignment System and make it easier for me to integrate into my existing game rules. It also strikes me as a somewhat simpler framework than what Pundit suggests in that I would have fewer variables to account for and maintain, but would not necessarily lose any of the flexibility of his design, nor its basic fundamental insights.

In the modified framework, the pursuit of Magic would suggest a trip down the Ego Axis, while Clerics would be heading towards Gnosis and ultimately Enlightenment should they get so far. To my mind this division makes a certain amount of sense, although I admit, it is certainly debatable.  Pundit may completely disagree.

That said, we should note that my suggestion would be in direct contraction to the Magician's conception of himself as someone who is seeking "Oneness with the Universe".  To this one might say that the Magician is living in the Illusion of self-justification, which would fit in neatly with Pundit's comments about the consequences of ultimate Ego. The Magician thinks he has embarked on the path of Enlightenment, but this is simply an Ego-Delusion. He is really in pursuit of the Will to Power, and his "True Will" is the endpoint of that goal. This could be contrasted with the Cleric (of whatever religion) who is seeking to subsume himself in the "Oneness" of his God, and whose goal is not "True Will", but "True Self", which sounds the similar, but isn't quite the same. That "True Self", ultimately, is God, and by this the Cleric seeks to unite with God and thus, "do God's will", not his own.

This raises another interesting issue… one could argue that by pursuing a Pantheistic religious path down a particular Alignment path (where ultimately the various Elkron of each Alignment resides) one is not getting any closer to Oneness either. Philosophically, I would say this is quite likely true. The answer to this may be that all of the Elkron of the 16 Alignments are really only partial reflections of The One True God, who embodies all of these things in the Great Oneness that is All. So Clerics in the end will either become “One” with a particular Alignment’s Elkron, or perhaps they will truly make the leap towards Universal Truth and find Enlightenment itself, which is Oneness with All.

But what about Good and Evil Clerics? This also needs to be reflected on. We have Evil Alignments, and Evil Elkron, do we not? There so there are those Clerics who want to unite with an Evil Deity, perhaps out of the anguish of their personal pain and a hope for revenge against those who they feel wronged them, or because they believe that True Power is to be found there, and so their Will to Power may compel them in that direction. Or perhaps the Evil Clerics are those who have fallen off the True Path, failed to "Cross the Abyss", and have consequently fallen prey to their "Black Brother" within, and thus have marched far down the path of both Psychosis and Ego. It makes me think there may be a one to one correlation between the Alignment Grid and the Mystic Disposition Grid.  Possibly, possibly.  I'm not sure.  I will  have to think about that more.  If so, and they overlap, then maybe there is no need for two separate systems, but I can incorporate both concepts into one system.  Perhaps.

Lastly, what are we to say of those who are not mystical at all? Those who perhaps have a relatively normal existence, who do not rise above the common lot? I would place them toward the center of the grid, hovering around the 0, 0 region of the chart.  While we can understand them not achieving Gnosis, nor falling headlong into Ego, nor Psychosis, why do they not achieve Sanity? Because perhaps real Sanity, ultimately, requires a deep level insight, and a certain amount of Gnosis is required for that.  The rest of us, as it happens, are simply normal.  Some good, some bad, some understanding, but still caught up in our egos.  Sometimes sane, sometimes not so sane.

Anyway, all of that said, I want to compliment Pundit and say thank you for some really wonderful writings on this topic. It’s really thought provoking, and who knows? Maybe I will derive an adjunct system for Mystical Evolution out of it, or fuse one into my existing system. 

Much more tooling required, though, of course. But still, I feel there are good seeds here to cultivate. So once again, Pundit, thanks!  Great stuff!  :)

And now, to reflect on all of this ...


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thoughts on Contemporary Fantasy Artwork

This is a response to a google+ conversation I had with Erik Westmarch here. My reply felt a bit too long for a Google+ comment so I thought I'd put it over here on my blog instead. Let the controversy begin.




Previously Erik had written:
It's more than just power escalation within the game. That's an issue too, and I like 5E's solution to flattening the total sum of bonuses you can get, but that's really not the problem with the art.

The problem with the art, in my view, is exaggeration. The very size, musculature and abilities (why are his eyes glowing?) are exaggerated in a way I associate with certain comic book style artists.

Here's a picture that's supposed to be Conan which is just over the line for me: http://franckbr.xpg.uol.com.br/imagensconan/conan2.jpg

The muscles and the ax are way too exaggerated. More than they need to be. That guy is easily twice the size of Schwarzenegger, who was already huge in the way only massive amounts of steroids can produce.

And why do that? Is this guy really not intimidating enough? http://www.soundonsight.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/conan-the-barbarian-20100716054248903_640w.jpg

Similarly-

This Captain America http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/11113/111130081/3364434-3106405183-Capta.jpg

Not this Captain America http://www.fightersgeneration.com/np5/more/mvc3cap.jpg (Seriously. That guys head!)

You can also see this progression over time.

Here's Elminster in AD&D 1E http://screamsheet.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/elminst.gif

And by the time you get to 3E Elminster (who's a wizard, I note) has shoulders as broad as Sylvester Stallone for no apparent reason http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20060704004707/forgottenrealms/images/3/32/Elminster2.jpg

And then by the time we get to Pathfinder, Wizards look like this, apparently http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/3f/a5/90/3fa5906fcd67c782889d166896fd7ec0.jpg

I mean, what the hell? How heavy is that globe at the bottom of his staff? Why even have a glass globe on the bottom of your staff? What's with the retarded posture? Is it supposed to be cool?

E-gads this is sort of frustrating because I don't have the words for it. Maybe Zak S or another of the talented artists in the OSR could put it better. But I want PCs that look like real people in extraordinary circumstances, not comic book characters posed for the camera in the middle of an action shot.

I guess I didn't express myself well enough the first time around - my point was that the inflation / exaggeration (which are part of the same problem) in the game has a parallel in the artwork over time. It's a difficult point to express easily. They're not directly linked, but they are a product of the same emotional drive - to One Up the previous thing. In one case it's the art work, in the other case it's the in game stuff. In both cases I think the Impulse to Inflation is a product of cultural trends that are more pervasive than in just RPGs.

This exaggeration of RPG Art can also be seen in movies as well as comics. And my guess is contemporary novels, too, but I haven't had time to read much contemporary novels lately. I think this points to a cultural phenomenon, and not just RPG artwork.

What it strikes me as off the top is that it represents our culture's shift away from a simpler more peaceable mentality toward a flashier, gaudier, and more power-oriented society. People are attracted to (at least it is assumed they are, and certainly the cultural decision makers are) a bigger, more bad-ass, more violent vision of ... well, in a way, of whatever. Everything is flying to the extremes. I mean we have Sharknado now.

Um.... um... uh... WTF is that?!
It's taken two steps beyond the absurd. And if I were a psychoanalyst I think I would be noting that it's probably a result of some pretty significant neurosis at the cultural level.

I expect that these are debatable points, but I think there's something a lot less friendly about the current strain of culture, and that the former epoch was somehow more down to earth, and emotionally easier to deal with at a personal level. I mean, if I stumble on the wizard from the earlier epoch I'm probably inclined to be a bit wary, perhaps, but curious enough to sit down for a cup of tea with that guy and try to learn something. By the time we get to the Pathfinder Wizard I'm staying hidden behind the tree and praying that thing doesn't notice me.

Another point you alluded to is that the new construct, as represented by the outlandish stances of the overwrought Characters may be expressed most succinctly as "Poser" style. It gives the impression of people posing. They are posers. And as such they're fakes.  Or at least they appear to be standing in poses that we associate with posers.   But then again ... if you were bristling with the purple coruscanting energies of the Wild-Wierd, you might have to cock your head back, arch your fingers and spread your legs wide so you don't get blown over, too.  Possible.

What I am more interested in is a sense of down-to-earthness in our gaming. Sure it's fantasy, as some people will argue, and therefore "not realistic" to begin with. But the wall between fantasy and reality should be hazy, not stark. When I play for immersion I don't look to suddenly get zapped into comic book land. There is a certain gradual shifting from the real to the unreal and back again that makes fantasy actually immersive. The kind of fantasy that makes wizards into Hyper-Powered Combat Artillery Units for the purpose of blasting out 100 dice of damage per melee is not the same fantasy as George MacDouglas, or Tolkien, or any of the great fantasy writers produced in years gone by.

I think our contemporary styles with their garish over-the-top displays of power and gaudy reliance on Ultra-this and Omega-that create world visions that one can view with two raised eyebrows and say "oohhhh" and "ahhhhh"... but, can you really find yourselves immersed in those worlds? Maybe. I supposed there must be people who do. Or maybe not. I don't have any way of assessing that at the moment. I'd be curious to know, though. I suspect that Gamism would more likely have replaced immersion, and since for Gamists there's no expectation of immersion to begin with, they simply don't think there's anything else to be gained from the art style other than "oooohhh" and "aaaahhhh", and "ok I rolled a CRIT!". Possibly.

Not that there's anything wrong with Gamist style.  It's just different.  And maybe when D&D took a turn (pretty early on) towards the Gamist side of the spectrum, the artwork naturely took the turn with it.  Possibly.

The Narrativist style, though, is in it's way, a more subtle beast, trying as it does to illicit immersion.  And for that the atmosphere, and the artwork supporting it, should be more subtle.  More old-fashioned, if you will.

Friday, August 08, 2014

On the Elthos Elkron-Alignment System

The Elthos Tarot
The Elkron-Alignment Concept

  • The Elthos Metaverse has 4 Cardinal Alignments. Good, Evil, Law and Chaos.
  • The 4 Cardinal Alignments form the four points of a compass. North (Good), Evil (South), Law (East), Chaos (West).
  • As you go around the Compass it is divided into 12 Sections. Each one represents some combination of the 4 Cardinals.
  • For example in the upper right Quadrant you will find Good-Law, Neutral-Good, and Lawful-Good.
  • The Compass is then divided into two circles. An inner Circle, and an Outer Circle.
  • The Inner Circle Represents the Planets (in relation to Greek myth the Olympians - in Elthos 'The Young Elkron').
  • The Outer Circle Represents the Constellations of the Zodiac (the Titans - in Elthos 'The Elder Elkron').
  • There are 12 of each. And Each of these Represents a Celestial Elkron. So there are in total 24 Celestials.
  • The Compass Disk is also divided by Upper and Lower Regions.
  • The Upper Region are the Celestials.
  • The Lower Region are the Archetypes (ala Carl Jung) which are represented by the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

Thus each Tarot Card represents both the Archetype AND the Celestial Elkron associated with that Alignment. When you look at any Major Arcana Card in the Elthos Tarot Deck you will see both the Celestial and the Archetype in the images.

Every Elkron is associated with a set of Correspondences (gleaned mostly from ancient tables of correspondences, and some modern). Trees, Animals, Monsters, Gems, Colors, etc. are given for each Elkron.

Story Map showing Elkron References
What this aspect of the system is used for is Symbolic Inner-Story Guidance, and allows the GM to use symbolism in their World, should they so choose, that remains constant, and has the virtue of being linked into a unified system of the Elkron. This allows for mystical game play that is a little bit more than simply making up stuff like "The Oracle says that you must go to the Temple of the Moon", but instead allows you to add symbols that have actual meaning within the context of the Elkron. I have used it for this in the past and it's worked out very well. However, that said, I have not made extensive use of this aspect of the system, and there are a number of options on the table as to how to best use it.

That said, I asked Jason Moser to create a Tarot Deck for me, and he's done a spectacular job embedding the Symbols from the Correspondences table into the imagery of the cards.

Also note... in ancient times and modern there is a disparity between the number of planets and the number of Constellations. There is also a disparity between the number of Major Arcana Tarot Cards and the Constellations. For the purpose of Elthos I resolved this by adding two Tarot Cards (The Unicorn and the Dragon), and one Planet (Planet X, aka Elkor - the Planet of the Elkron). This allows the system to mathematically balance, and produces a coherent system. Without it the system would not be feasible. Therefore the Tarot Deck is 'The Elthos Tarot', and is probably useless to any modern astrologer (unless they happen to be open to the idea of Planet X (Nirabu), and two new Tarot Cards (highly unlikely, though I have had some reactions from Astrology lovers who thought it a remarkable innovation and wanted to use the deck - so it's hard to say).

Game Mechanics of the Alignment System

The Alignment Grid is set up with the 4 Cardinal Points of Good, Evil, Law and Chaos as a Cartesian Grid. The Grid is 100 x 100 points. Alignments are written as (1, 1) which would be read as (1 Law, 1 Good). Since the number are equal it would be in the Neutral Good segment. (-4, 3) would be (-4 Chaos, 3 Good) or Chaotic Good. (3, -4) would be Evil Chaotic (because the Evil is the larger number it predominates). All sentient Beings in the World have an Alignment.

Actions in the game are defined by their Alignment effect.

There are two Axises of Alignment: The Moral Axis (Good - Evil) and the Metaphysical Axis (Law - Chaos).   All Actions have a Moral and Metaphysical value.

For example. Robinhood steals from the rich to give to the poor. His action on the Metaphysical axis is Chaotic (theft), while on the Moral Axis it is Good (charity).

The Empress
The Moral Axis is composed of Motives. What the Character's motive for doing something is determined, and this motive determines if it is Good or Evil.  Good motives are things like Friendship, Generosity, Justice, etc.   Evil motives are things like Greed, Cowardice, Glutton, etc.

The Metaphysical Axis is composed of items pertaining to Legality, either Socio-Political, Natural, or at the highest level Metaphysical (or Cosmic Law). Chaotic Actions are things like Theft and Murder. Actions that are Lawful are things like Joining the Military and Obeying the Governor's Command. Building a Library, or founding a Kingdom are Lawful. Destroying such institutions would be Chaotic. Each of these are given a point value in a list that is on the website, but not published anywhere else at this time. The point values range for 1 for minor actions and motives to 4 for Major ones. The scale is between 1 and 100.

Thus during the course of the game the Player Character will do things that may have Alignment
implications. For example, John the Cleric gives alms to the poor. That is Charity, and is Neutral in terms of Law and Chaos. So he goes up 1 point on the Good Axis, and if he started out at (0, 0) he is now (0, 1). As Characters do things in the world their Alignment changes according to the nature of their deeds. I have found that MOST characters wind up hovering around the middle of the grid near Neutral because most people happen to play chaotically, sometimes doing good deeds, sometimes doing bad deeds, sometimes lawful sometimes chaotic. However, some Players choose to focus on getting their Character to hoof it along one alignment path and so their actions remain consistent and so over the course of the game they make Alignment progress. John the Cleric for example, often give alms to the poor, and helps the needy, helps to fight evil monsters and provides the temple with money for new construction. After a while of doing this, and NOT doing things that would undermine his Alignment path, he achieves distinction as a Good Lawful Cleric.

As Characters move along the Alignment path they gain the notice of the Elkron. At 10 points in any direction they become "Observed". At 15 points they may be "touched" or contacted in a dream or otherwise. At 20 points they may get a Power of the Elkron. Etc. It is also to be noted that as the Character moves in one direction, they are simultaneously gaining the notice of Oppositional Elkron on the other side of the Alignment Spectrum.

Current Status of the Alignment System

The system itself is setup in the Web Application. Alignment Changes are tracked and calculated as part of Experience Gains. So the Experience Gains may be "John the Cleric gave 10 dollars to a beggar", for which a record is made that he is at -10 Dollars, his motive was Charity and the Metaphysical aspect was "neutral". He went up 1 Good Point. This all works very nicely in the website and is easy to work with, or ignore if the GM is not interested in this feature.

The Elthos Tarot Deck is completed and printable. I had 10 Decks printed. They came out beautifully.

Work that needs to be done on it:

1. I do not have any formal rules on Powers that Elkron may Distribute, but Powers are those that work like Miracles but can use either Mystic Points OR Life Points to cast (optionally).

2. Powers may be unique to the Elkron, but I do not have a List of Unique Powers at this point. I will at some point, however.

3. I do not have any formal rules on how Elkron will respond to the migration of Characters on the Alignment Grid. It is GM Fiat.

4.  Ironing out the numeric values of the various aspects mechanically.

I have the intention to write an Elthos World Weaver's Guide that helps to explain the Alignment System, the Elkron, and how to World Weave the Tarot Deck into the Symbolism of the GM's World (if they so choose).

My intention to date has been to have a separation between the World Weaving Guide and the Core Rules Book (though you are right to point out that I do have a thread of overlap, which I agree can and should be removed from the Core Rules). My thinking is that some people may want to use the Elthos RPG as a whole. Some may want to use the Mechanics alone, and not use the Tarot or World Weaving materials. Some may want to use only that, and not the mechanics. As such the Web Application is divided into "The World Weaver's Studio" and "The Gamesmaster's Toolbox".

I hope that all is clear enough.

Here is a link to the Elthos Tarot Deck - Major Arcana

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts on Fear and Courage for GMs

Over on The Gamesmaster Academy (on Roll20 Forum) a new GM posted his Campaign concept (you do need to join the GMA to read the post, sorry) which I thought was a great and ambitious idea. After describing his concept he asked "How do I make the helpless powerful again? What is perfect? What is beyond magic? how do I instill fear and courage at the same time?"

This is what I wrote...



I see what you're looking for and this is a very ambitious project for a new GM! I like it. But it is very tricky to do what you're looking for, and I would not expect to be able to achieve it in one shot. You might think of it in terms of changing moods and feelings over the course of the campaign. At first you want them to feel powerful. Then you want to show that no matter how powerful you may think you are, in the end there is always something beyond you who can easily defeat you. Then you want them to start from the beginning and build their characters knowing both that they can become powerful, but never the most powerful thing there is. This will, if all goes well, teach them to play their Characters with some perspective and humility, whether they are powerful or not. I like the concept. Again though, this is a real challenge to pull off well. The challenges you will face have to do with 1) players rarely do what you expect them to, or feel the way you think they should 2) in a game of probabilities and dice things can always go in unexpected directions. For example, you give them level 20 characters and they go out and fight something that they should be able to defeat - but woopsie bad luck - they die there and never even meet the Assassin. Stuff like that happens all the time. Another problem you face with this idea is that it is, by your design, a railroad adventure, at least in the beginning. That's a set piece scene where the characters actually have very little freedom, and the GM is "railroading" them down the track of his or her intended story line. All to good purpose and for the story, of course. But seldom do players like being railroaded, and will most often try to jump off of the train - hence, problem #1. So yes, very ambitious. I like the concept. It will be challenging. Best wishes! Keep us posted as to how it goes, and feel free to ask specific questions.

As for instilling fear and courage at the same time... remember, courage is the overcoming of fear in order to do the hero's work. They both come in the same package. For most ordinary people they are consumed by fear, and can not rise to the level of courage, but for every courageous act, fear was what they overcame to accomplish it. So your real question is "How do I instill a sense of fear, without making it so overwhelming that they players give up?" And again, this too is tricky. Courage is a very personal act. It can't be faked. The thing you are afraid of must be something that is worthy of being feared. Courage comes when you determine to overcome that fear and find some way to defeat the opponent, even when it appears the opponent is overwhelming. It is an act of will. Ultimately courage must be born of the will within the individual. The GM can not, and probably should not, instill courage into their players. They can simply present challenges that they know could be over overcome IF the players rise to the challenge and determine to make their characters overcome their fear. Again, tricky to pull off, but definitely possible.

So the first part of that equation is "How do I make my players feel fear?" And that is something that can be done with a couple of techniques. One, make the opponent a real challenge. The monster must be tougher than the Characters. Two, introduce the monster in a way that inspires dread. Think of horror movies and how the Director builds up the story so that at the point you encounter the monster you're on the edge of your seat. Follow that kind of pattern and be careful to build your scenes with plenty of Descriptive Narrative setting the mood by describing the scene verbally with plenty of detail. Tell the players what they see, what they hear, what they smell, and set the mood by describing the lighting, the weather, and anything that adds to the narrative the elements you want to instill in their minds. In this part of GMing you are setting the stage, like a Director. Show them, for example, the scene of the last horrible crime the monster committed and describe the dreadful details in a way that lets them know that "Whatever did this was - Powerful and Horrible". Set the scenes and build up towards the encounter with the monster. Through this process you can instill fear... and from that provide the players with the opportunity (but not guarantee) to achieve courage.

Very interesting project. I look forward to hearing how it goes. :)



Thoughts?