Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Elthos RPG Rules Book Drawings

A few drawings that I made for the Elthos RPG Rules Book. We're working on final layout now.

What I really love about this hobby is how many different arts it brings together. Between the story writing, improvisational acting, history and science study, map making and artwork, well, its just a fabulously creative endeavor.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Petroglyph of Elthos II

Another petroglyph somewhere in Elthos. This one is rather a bit of a mystery, as no one knows the context of the story depicted. It is thought to be far more ancient than the first petroglyph but even this is uncertain. Further study is required.

Petroglyph of Elthos

This depicts, for those who are knowledgeable about such things, an ancient battle between the Scorpion God and the Monsters of the underworld, which the Scorpion God won with the help of an army of archers the God had cultivated for the war. The cultivation of this army was planned a very long time ago in the Dawn Age, long before the Elkron had created the races, while the world was still being formed during the Great Tectonic Wars. The Scorpion God was victorious and so he rules the underworld kingdom with Claws of Iron, and the Sting of Poisonous Death.

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 ...