Sunday, October 06, 2019

Thoughts On RPG Alignment

My thoughts on the origins of Alignment, where it went wrong, and how I re-interpreted the thing for my own use... and hence, why I for one like Alignment for my RPGs.


Monday, September 30, 2019

The Three Design Goals of Elthos RPG

I started working on Elthos in 1978.  I did a light skim of Men & Magic, and took it from there.  Here were my three primary design goals.

1) What rules system will make my life as GM simple and easy?

... my thinking being, if my life as GM is easier rather than harder then everyone will enjoy the game more, including me.

2) How do I create a system that is flexible enough to handle ANYTHING my stupid brain wants to throw at it?

Those two goals were at the core of my design philosophy in 1978. Everything else can be thought of as a means to those two ends.

Maybe, if I want to stretch it, a 3rd goal was

3) How do I make these rules "make sense" to me as a kind of simulation of what I think is going on in the world around me?

... in that sense I think my game rules are a philosophic statement about my view of physics (combat tactics, etc) and metaphysics (the Universe, etc).

Well, that's enough for one game, isn't it?  So there you have it.  Now I will go back to tinkering on Mythos Machine.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

My First Podcast - Thoughts On Murder Hobos

Ok, always one to jump on the bandwagon long after it has left the station, here we go with my very first Podcast! It's my first try, so it's definitely rough around the edges, but I'm excited to have gotten through the process of setting up shop and getting one out. It wasn't as hard as I expected! Ok. It runs about 14 minutes and it's no frills, no ads, and no pleas for support or anything ... I just jump in with two feet and talk off the top of my head. I hope it works, and provides some food for thought on a contentious subject in the world of RPGs.

Some thoughts on Murder Hobos, why it might happen, and what GMs might be able to do about it. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Some Thoughts on Traditional vs GM-less RPGs

I pulled this from a recent Meetup that has just launched in our area.  It got me thinking some thoughts.  Here's the part of their FAQ that made me think...
4) How are story games different from other role-playing games?
The games we play are designed around distributed authority and improvisational play. Most traditional games have an MC or GM that directs the action and determines what is allowed during play. They also have robust rule systems to adjudicate disputes. The rules and the GM have the authority and the biggest impact on what and how stories get told.
However, we choose to play GM-less games that let everyone at the table have equal say in how the story develops. We also play without prep, so no one has any more knowledge or input into the story we create than anyone else. Instead, the story emerges from play as we improvise together. These are the key ingredients to our gameplay: improvisation over prep; shared, negotiated authority rather than a singular, definitive one; and complete single-session episodes rather than ongoing campaigns.
First let me say that I have nothing against people enjoying whatever kinds of games they want, and that this style of play is just fine with me. 

That said, here is why I prefer the GM directed games, and what my problem with GM-less games actually is.

GM authored games have potential to be vast worlds that are amazing at several levels.  On one level can be the detail the GM puts into the history of their world.  Another can be the completeness of the vision the GM has regarding the back story, both in terms of intricacy, but also in terms of theme and meaning.  When playing in such a World the player has a far greater chance of deriving Immersion out of that play, provided the GM is also a master of Descriptive Narrative, and Improvisational Theater.  Of course some people quibble about what Immersion means, so I can only go by my own definition based on my own experience.  For me it is the entering into someone else's imaginary World and experiencing that it is real in some sense. It is a rare phenomenon, and one that I've only obtained in a few special circumstances. 

There are some GMs who are masters at all of these aspects of the game.  I've played with a few, and in those cases the immersion I was able to achieve was akin to slipping into the World of J.R. Tolkien.  It was an experience that illuminated my mind and sent me along the path toward Great Gamemastering.  It's an art.  It requires both skills and a touch of genius.

The problem I have with GM-less Story Games is that according to the design there is no way to derive those effects that would lead to Immersion.  You can't create a vast and coherent back story that way.  Instead, all of the elements are introduced randomly by the players as the game progresses.  So there is no underlying "true story" beneath the surface level of the game play.  Everything just gets tacked on as you go along, and made use of as-is during the course of the game.  As an exercise in improv, I'm sure it's a wonderful thing.  But if your goal is to achieve Immersion (which isn't easy to begin with), then Story-Games as defined above won't bring me there.  Pretty sure.

So nothing against Story Games, or those who play them.  I might even enjoy them once in a while for what they do offer.  But I think it should be understood that Story Games is simply a different kettle of fish than traditional RPGs, with different goals and different results.  I tend to prefer at least a chance at Immersion. 

There is also another aspect that should be mentioned as well ... Gamemastering is an art.  Creating great Worlds is a pleasure.  Having players run around in them having adventures and discovering the World's story is one of the more fun things to do in life, in my opinion.  So for those who like traditional RPGs there is a creativity eco-system that that works to deliver a powerful, immersive, and fun experience for everyone at different levels. 

Another thing that comes to mind is that Story-Games, by virtue of their name, and what some people in the past have claimed, suggest that traditional RPGs are not disposed to producing "good stories".  However, I don't think this is necessarily the case.  And it also occurs to me that Story-Games are not actually synonymous with GM-less games either.  You can have GM'd Story-Games whose rules tend to favor story development by tamping down on crunch, but most light weight rules, traditional or otherwise, would then fit into that category, and I don't think that's what is intended to be implied by those pitching Story-Games per se.  On the other hand, you could also have a high crunch RPG, and play it in GM-less mode if you really wanted to, and give players 100% agency as well, because most traditionalist RPG rules sets talk more about how to handle the crunch than how to GM the game itself.  And at any rate, one can always house-rule any game, and simply ignore the parts that are not convenient for your preferred style of gaming.   So in other words, there's a lot of ways to slice and dice RPGs in terms of Story-Game and GM-less games, vs. Traditional RPGs.  None of them, btw, are "right" and none of them are "wrong"... it's really simply a matter of preference.  You have yours, I'm sure, and I have mine... and those are also likely to change from time to time.

I have enjoyed the hobby in its traditional format since 1978.  I'm pretty sure I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. 

One of my Story-Maps for my Traditionalist RPG, Elthos.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Elthos Vignette - A Squirrel in an Enchanted Forest


There once lived a squirrel in an enchanted forest high in the boughs of an oak tree.   She was a merry little thing and her name was Chippy.  

Chippy's Birthday Party
When she was born her parents were delighted and invited all of their friends to come to a big party to celebrate.   They served every kind of squirrel delight, acorns and nuts and all kinds of delicious little berries.   These were either fresh or carefully sun baked so that every squirrel commented on how good the food was.   Everyone brought a little gift of food or something for their home or for the baby to play with.   In the end the squirrel family had more than they started with and the surplus became their winter stock and so despite the early winter that year they had plenty and slept the winter in good stead.  

Chippy and the Faeries
When Chippy was young she used to go out and play on the high branches with the faeries of the oak leaves who danced all day long along the bows of the trees, riding on butterflies or floating along on dandelion puffs, singing faerie melodies.    Chippy listened to all the faerie tales she could and learned many stories of the forest from them.  Sometimes Chippy would try to dance with them, but it was  dangerous for her, so her father forbid her to dance with the fairies.

Chippy's Adventure
This made Chippy sad so one day she decided to run away from home.   She packed up a little parcel of acorns and nuts and took off down Big Branch outside of her happy little home.    When she got to First Fork she departed from where she usually went to play and headed along toward the Bright Leaves at Sunset.   She was scared to go where she had never been, but also excited to see something new.    After she had gone on for a ways she was hungry and sat down for a bit of lunch which she munched merrily singing a little tune to herself.    An old Crow as sitting nearby and said to her, "My little dear, aren't you far from home out here on Bright Leaves at Sunset?"   Chippy, who had never met a Crow before, said that she was on an Adventure to find the Golden Acorn, which she had learned of from the faeries of the Branch in the Shade, and the Crow nodded sagely.    He told her the story of how the Golden Acorn was once seen high in the bows of the tallest oak of the forest, old Grand Daddy Oak, and that for nothing in the world would he let that acorn fall from him.    The little squirrel was not daunted but said that she would find it herself and ask old Grand Daddy Oak for it and he would surely give it to her, and so she begged the Crow to tell her where to find it.   Crow said that he would guide her to it if she wanted.    She happily agreed.    So the Crow told her to hang on to his neck and he would fly little Chippy across the sky to the great tree.    She climbed on his back and wrapped her little arms around his neck and they flew high up on the winds of the summer morning.   Chippy was so frightened at first that she almost let go, which would have been the end of her, but after a time she grew accustomed to the sight of all the trees below and had great fun flying along.   Finally below them they saw a great big old oak tree and the Crow lighted down on a high branch.    Chippy was overjoyed.    She left the Crow with a great big thank you hug and headed on high up the trunk to the highest branch.    And as the sun was setting there she suddenly saw a golden sparkle and beheld the Golden Acorn.    Quickly she ran up to it, but when she got near it she found that it was really but a large nugget of rock made of shiny golden metal, and not a real acorn at all.    It looked like an acorn, but it didn't have a smell, and when she nibbled at it her teeth could not so much as nick a sliver off of it for flavor.   Then she was very sad, and hungry and tired and she began to cry.    Old Grand Daddy Oak heard her lament and said to her, "Little squirrel, why are you crying in my branches?   You have seen the Golden Acorn, and though you can't eat it, it is still a goodly thing to see, for all who see it become true friends of the Oak People and will never be hurt so long as they dwell in an oak tree.   You have my blessings, little one."   But Chippy was homesick and was scared because it was getting dark and she was hungry and tired and had no idea how to get home.    So old Grand Daddy Oak called an Eagle who lived with him and was a great friend of his and asked him if he could help little Chippy get home.   The Eagle, who was ever vigilant, had been flying high in the upper airs that day and had seen exactly where Chippy had been flown in from, and he said he would take her home, except that it was already dark and it was time for everyone to go to sleep for the night.   So old Grand Daddy Oak, who was very kind, found an empty nest that had been left by a bird family recently departed and asked one of the acorn faeries to bring her there.    It was a long ways off, by Squirrel reckoning, and she almost slipped once, but she eventually made it there, guided by the red feathery plume in the faerie's hat.    There Chippy slept the night and in the morning the great Eagle came to fly her home.   Chippy climbed aboard and the great Eagle took off flying higher than ever the Crow could have done.   Within no time she was home at her own branch.   Having spent the entire night searching high and low branches for her in a state of parental squirrel panic, her parents caught sight of Chippy being flown to them on the wings of an eagle and they were amazed.    Chippy lighted down on the branch near her parents, thanked the great Eagle heartily, gave him a gift of an acorn (which he gracefully accepted, but of course eagles don't eat acorns), and then he said to her parents, "Lady and Sir Squirrel, your little daughter Chippy has come back from an Adventure where she found the old Grand Daddy of the Oaks, bravely climbed upward until she beheld the Golden Acorn.   Hence she is a friend of the Oak People and no harm will come to her or to you while you live among the Oaks.   So decrees old Grand Daddy Oak."   And then with a majestic nod he turned and flew off high into the sky and disappeared.   This made her parents very proud, and Chippy became a little bit famous among the squirrel tribe of that region of the forest, but never did go on another Adventure, saying only that, "I learned from my Adventure that being home is the best place to be."   And so Chippy became a very contented little squirrel and never strayed far from Big Branch again.

Chippy's Suitors
When Chippy grew to become a very pretty young lady squirrel she acquired many suitors, mostly because all the other squirrels of the glade had heard that she had seen the Golden Acorn, and they presumed that she must be very wealthy in secret.   They imagined that she had a horde of golden acorns, or that the old Grand Daddy Oak had given her some secret treasure.    And so her suitors would gather daily on and near her branch and compete amongst themselves for her attention.   She on the other hand knew all about their intentions and cared not a twig for any of the lot.    She had her mind on finding a brave and honest young squirrel who would love her for her ample teeth, not for rumors of her money, which of course she didn't have.    One day a bright young lad by the name of Chibble-Dee came along the branch and he was new in the neighborhood having traversed a wide span of glades and forest seeking a new home.    His old home was burned down in a fire, and he was the only among his clan to survive.     When he came by he passed Chippy who expected even a stranger to know all about her and her supposed treasure,  she was surprised as he didn't try to impress her with acrobatics, or with gifts of acorns, or with his ability to count leaves, or dance with faeries.   He just sat down next to her and asked her if she knew if there were and open space anywhere on the tree at that time.    Well, she took a liking to the strange Squirrel, and soon after she introduced him to her parents.   They also liked young Chibble-Dee and offered him a room in their little dwelling.    It wasn't long after that that Chippy and Chibble-Dee were married and had little squirrels of their own. The first of their children was named Ribble-Dee, and it is of him that the rest of our story is told.

The Story of Ribble-Dee
Ribble-Dee was a handsome, honest and brave young squirrel.  He lived a rather ordinary life for a squirrel, seeking acorns and chestnuts and playing with faeries.  One day, a great old owl saw him as Ribble-Dee was sitting alone on a branch munching an acorn, and stretched his wings with a famished gleam of malice in his eyes and sped forthwith down upon silent wings toward his prey.   However, the old Grand Daddy of the Oaks remembered his promise to Chippy and just as old Owl was about to snatch his prey by the throat in his razor sharp talons, all of a sudden a large branch smacked old Owl right on the head so that he missed young Ribble-Dee altogether.  Ribble-Dee didn't know what had happened and even helped himself to another acorn while old Owl hooted his annoyance as he fell some branches downward before righting himself.  It was after this that old Owl decided to make a lunch out of Ribble-Dee somehow.   Old Owl remembered the story of Chippy's Adventure, and he was wise enough to see that so long as Ribble-Dee lived in the branches of the oak,  old Owl had not a chance of getting at him.    And of course Chippy had most certainly made a habit of never leaving the security of her tree, and had told Ribble-Dee and the other children about her Adventure and how the Old Grand Daddy of the Oaks had decreed that she and her family be protected among the Oaks.  

Ribble-Dee's Adventure
Ribble-Dee, however, whose father Chibble-Dee From Far Away and had traveled much, didn't wish to spend the entirety of his life in one tree only.   And so one morning he set out on his own Adventure to go beyond Big Branch and Far Leaves and made a mighty leap through the air to Chestnut Tree on the Brook, their nearest neighbor, so that he could rustle up some chestnuts which he loved more than any other nut.   Old Owl had figured, being wise and having thought much on it, that Ribble-Dee would some day leave the oak tree, and on this day he was watching from his airy perch as Ribble-Dee made his way around the branches of Chestnut Tree on the Brook.    Again his eyes narrowed with a malicious gleam as he waited very patiently until Ribble-Dee was loaded up with Chestnuts and waited longer until Ribble-Dee had come to the edge of Chestnut Tree on the Brook so as to leap back to his oaken home, and then, without a sound, spread his wings and flew straight as an arrow down as Ribble-Dee was in mid leap.   Swap!   Ribble-Dee cried out in pain and terror and old Owl caught him up in his razor sharp talons.    And away flew old Owl with Ribble-Dee for lunch, for he was patient and wise and knew what he wanted.  

It was a sad day for Chippy and Chibble-Dee and their family, but thereafter they remained quite resolutely and quite securely rooted in the branches of their old oak, and ne'er more did any of the Chibble-Dee family stray further than Far Leaves, and so they lived their remaining years merry little squirrels high in the boughs of the old oak tree.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Everything Wrong with the Battle of Winterfell

Very much enjoyed this tactical analysis of the Battle of Winterfell against the Night King on Youtube ... following is my commentary ...


My commentary on the video ...

Totally agree with your analysis. I would only add that it would have been a good idea to man the walls with archers who were armed with quivers of Obsidian tipped arrows, and behind them spear men with Obsidian tipped spears. Between those, light armored skirmishers with ... you guessed it ... Obsidian daggers. As it only takes one hit with this kind of magical weapon to destroy a white walker, the Night King would have had a much harder time dealing with the defenders in this case. I also would have put the light Calvary behind the castle and used them for flanking action with their flaming scythes. The heavy Calvary would have been used as a supporting force, and given as many flaming and Obsidian weapons as possible. The purpose of this would have been to keep the white walkers focused on the castle wall, their only option for attack. To make it even more likely, I would have had a narrow wooden bridge over the trench made of wood that faced the wall (not the main gate) on the right side of the castle. This would have caused the white walkers to pour over the trench at a specific location (they are stupid, remember) and face the base of the wall. One dragon could have sat on a tower above the wall, and roasted the white walkers. If too many began to pile up, you can then buy time by burning the wooden bridge and forcing the remaining white walkers to have to cross the mote, which if sufficiently deep could have taken quite some time... and once it gets pretty full, THEN ignite the entire thing which you would have cleverly filled the bottom of which with wooden stakes and ... lots of flammable materials and oil. One torch and Kafoooooom! It would then take even more time for the fires to die down so the white walkers to refill the trench... and of course you have plenty of oil ready to refill on top of the white walkers by flying the dragon over the trench and pouring the oil into it... once again, let it fill up with white walkers and once again Kafooooom!! ... all of which would have really pissed off the Night King as at this point he hasn't even gotten his zombie army to the base of the wall for more than a few minutes before they get roasted to ash by the dragon. I would also have recommended, as suggested, to BURN all of the corpses in the crypt BEFORE the Night King got there. Ahem. Meanwhile... wait for the Night King to show up on his undead dragon, and then the two dragons can take him on, as what happened during the show. And yes, I agree... putting Bran in the garden was a risk primarily because the garden is only defended by a relatively low wall, and so there's a good chance the zombie army would simply ignore the castle and move to overwhelm the garden wall. So putting Bran there was dumb... except that he probably was interested in staying in close proximity to the heart tree even though it didn't actually seem to afford him any special powers in the show. But lets assume that Bran would be played VERY differently if we played this out. For one thing, I would have been using him to ATTACK the Night King using every means at his disposal, and interrupting every magical attack the Night King waged as he could... drawing as much power from the Godswood as possible to do so. In which case, if being in the Goodwood was required for Bran to wage his attack then ok fine ... but mount a large Obsidian laden defense of archers and spear men and skirmishers on the garden walls as well, and dig a heavy moat around it. As for how to dig such a moat... it's a magical world and Bran is the premier magician ... surely some elemental force could have helped with that. The roots of the wier trees digging motes seems perfectly viable to my mind. Not only that, but once dug, I would also venture to suggest that those weir tree roots might be just the sort of magic that could entangle undead and crush them as they try to cross the bottom of the moat as well. Additionally, Bran could have had an escape route planned so that once the Night King came within the Godswood to attack, the wier trees could help defend him, and the Obsidian and flaming sword forces could attack the Night King on mass, and Bran could retreat into the caves and hide there.. or make his way into the castle.


The plan that we saw executed on the show seems dumb in every way to me. Perhaps if Tywin had been there... ? Oh well.

With a defense as outlined above and in the video I think the Night King would have had a really hard time. In fact, if I were him I'd have thought long and hard about this attack in this case. Of course there is one thing he has to his advantage. He can raise undead... apparently as many as he wishes, and without limit. Anyone who is dead can become a white walker at his command, whether he killed them or not. So ... the Night King could have simply besieged the castle at this point, surrounded by a wide and diffuse undead army, including undead wolves, bears, birds, etc, dotting the country side for miles and miles around, not letting anyone in or out ... this would have been a cold war brought on because the defenders were smart not stupid thus forcing the Night King to be smart as well ... and bring on the Long Winter with freezing winds and icy storms ... and slowly but surely starve them all to death over a few months - or even years - what does the Night King care how long it might take... he has the entire Long Winter to wait. And as the defenders individually die off, immediately raise them into zombies to run around and kill whomever they can next to them... or hunt for Bran and try to kill him. With the Long Winter bearing down upon the them and the relentless Night King, Lord of Winter, silently waiting for them all to die so that he could get his hands on Bran, and fulfill his wish... what could they have done? At that point I say, well... sorry but... Night King isn't stupid, and he plays the long game ... A Long Winter War of slowly grinding attrition against the living would have been, as far as I can tell, an unstoppable doom upon Winterfell and eventually the world. And so Valaryia was destroyed by fire, and then the rest of the world was destroyed by ice. A well rounded story. The Song of Ice and Fire.

As a Gamemaster, if it were my world, and I were playing the Night King as an NPC, and my players were playing the defenders AND playing them SMART... that's how this thing would probably have gone down. Just saying.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Elthos Project - Current Progress

Just a quick note to tell you what Elthos things I've been working on lately.
  • I updated the marketing website (not exciting I know, but it is helpful to the project, so I bear with the grunt work) at elthos.com to include a page for World Publishers. That page is here:
    https://elthos.com/world-publishing/
  • I updated the Elthos Projects page as well to include the Meta Game and the Elthos Tactical Board game. That page is here:
    https://elthos.com/elthos-project/
  • I've been working on Bushido World as a Mythos Machine Marketplace World and Proto-World and that's been coming along nicely, though it is not really entirely ready, I have released it as a draft on the Mythos Machine.
  • I've been also working on the Meta Game Rules for those interested in that game, and am now pretty happy with the Age of Heroes section. Next up is The Twilight Age, and then, last but not least, The End of Ages section.
  • I'm also working steadily on my first major Marketplace World called The Way of All Flesh, which is a Cosmic Sci-Fi world that is shaping up nicely and will be play tested starting the end of August.
  • I have also been tackling miscelaneous Mythos Machine Bugs, Updates and Enhancements as well. You can track those by checking out my Update Log here:
    https://mythosmachine.elthos.com/OutwardDocumentation/MM_UpdateLog.htm
Ok, so that's the story and I'm sticking by it. 

Let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions! Thanks!


Monday, July 22, 2019

My First Print Ad for Elthos


Many thanks to Jerry McDonnell, Goblin's Henchmen and Tod Foley for their help and advice along the way.  This ad will be published in Megadungeon #4, coming out soon.

But wait!  There's more!

On my way home, my great friend Charles Hoge texted me that he did a reworking of the Ad and sent it to me.  And here it is!  Fantastic!!


Thank you Charles!!!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Mutual Collaboration Society of Elthos

This thread, started by Tim Baker on Mewe today, covers some important points about the Mutual Collaboration Society of the Elthos RPG Mythos Machine. I thought I would post it to my blog for future reference.

Here we go... And as always, I look forward to hearing any thoughts you folks may have on this.  Thanks!


Tim Baker:
I'm working to compile a list of tabletop RPG settings that permit fans to legally use intellectual property in non-commercial projects. Examples I've gathered can be found here: http://www.thepiazza.org.uk/bb/viewtopic.php?f=48&t=21983&p=232611#p232611.

If you know others, please reply and share the URL. Thanks in advance!

VBWyrde:
Elthos RPG Mythos Machine offers a Mutual Collaboration Society framework for this purpose. Publicly shared content on the Mythos Machine allows other GMs to use the shared content freely for commercial or non-commercial purposes, with no restrictions but a request for attribution reference to Elthos RPG. This is laid out in the terms of service.

Tim Baker:
Thanks for the pointer! Do you have a URL handy, by any chance?

VBWyrde:
No problem. I'm glad you asked this. The Mutual Collaboration Society idea is something I created with the hope that we can cultivate creativity through sharing ideas freely. While also retaining the ability to chose to keep our things private if we so choose.

Terms of Service can be found here:
https://mythosmachine.elthos.com/MembersArea/Elthos_ODS/Documentation/ElthosTermsofService.htm

Tim Baker:
Thank you. I'm checking it out now.

VBWyrde:
The Mutual Collaboration Society part is pretty far down the ToS so keep scrolling till you see the Mutual Collaboration Society Rules on the right in the yellow English bubbles. I'll be curious to hear what you think of this framework. You're the first person I've run into who has specifically requested this kind of thing. So let me know if you like it, please, or if you think there's anything wrong with it especially. Thanks!

Tim Baker:
If I'm reading this right, then as long as someone creates an account, they're able to take the Proto-Worlds or any of the Public Worlds' Public Things and could write about them in a fanzine. Unlike many community use policies, they could even charge for the fanzine, if they so desired, and it would continue to fall under the ToS. Is that accurate in the way I'm reading it?


VBWyrde:
Yes. In other words, when you make your World Public, then the things in it that you have also made Public fall under the MCS agreement, and therefore can be used thereafter for any project, commercial or non-commercial. Thus, GMs who do not want to share their work under that condition are able to keep their things Private (which is the default). The idea is to allow things to be shared, and to allow people to use the shared works as they wish.


Also note that the attribution policy includes this:

In Addition, it is recommended and requested that when using Publically Shared Works from the Mythos Machine in any derivative works (such as books, movies, games, etc) of other creators on the site, that you provide an Attribution of their user name in your works.

Attribution should look like:

"This product has utilized Publically Shared Works by , and from the Elthos RPG Mythos Machine at http://elthos.com.", or appropriate equivalent.

Tim Baker:
Cool! That makes sense. I'll get that updated on the original post on The Piazza forums. Thanks for sharing this with me.

VBWyrde:
You're welcome! I'm glad you think so! I have worked very hard to put this platform together, and I hope it makes a solid foundation upon which people are encouraged to share their creativity in a share-and-share-alike modality. My goal is to encourage creativity, and I always felt that the current highly restrictive model is impeding people from allowing their creativity to flow freely.




Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Chaos and Horror in the World of Impius Malum

So last week I found myself assaulting the mortal world with three posts in which I described my ghastly idea of the World of Death starting with a post titled The Rays of Un-Life. Mostly what you can take away from those three posts is that the World of Death is unrelenting, all-destroying, and without the least bit of joy, or sorrow, fun, or in fact any emotion at all, with the sole exception being ... a horrible and insatiable hunger to devour all life. The World of Death Incarnate. There's nothing fun in that world at all. It is pure unadulterated horror. An infinite dried up dusty darkness centered and powered by the Remorseless Will-of-Death.

So, this week I want to make up for that bit of moroseness by discussing something much more fun! The Chaos and Horror of the World of Impius Malum. Of course I should probably preface this post with some sort of caveat about how this is Fantasy, and not a reflection at all of my views of reality in any way whatsoever, least my friends and neighbors begin to worry about about the state of my mind. But that should, naturally, go without saying, so I'll just breeze on down the road, and leave it at that.

Compared with the World of Death, the World of Impius Malum is sheer Wicked-Evil Joy. And horror. And perpetually entangling, agonizing, soul-shattering Chaos. But lots of fun... Depending, of course, on who you are. Unlike the World of Death where it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever at all, the World of Impius Malum as all about who you are.

If who you are happens to be Diabolically Evil, and you've gained status and power among the demons of the infernal World, why then you, too, can have lots of fun in the World of Impius Malum! Provided, of course, that your sanity lasts more than half a second, and you manage to maintain your (infinitely precarious) position of Power. And that you manage to avoid running into anyone who happens to be even the slightest bit more powerful than you. Which of course, isn't very likely at all... or even possible. Impius Malum just doesn't work that way, you see. Once there, it's almost a guarantee that while you can horrendously lord yourself over the Pathetic Miserables beneath your august and magnificent self, and as heinously as you can possibly imagine to the absolute nth degree, ... you will never be able to escape the same horrific fate from those monstrous devils above you. You'll see. It is the Wheel of Fortune Incarnate!

And of course, if you don't happen to be a Noteworthy Person of Power, and are merely one of the countless souls who dragged yourself through life as a poor miserable schlub, an ordinary human being who might be only modestly evil, or pretty damn evil, but not quite Exquisitely Horrendously Evil enough... well, then the World of Impius Malum really isn't ever so much fun for you at all. Such people are only the playthings of those wicked Powers that wildly dance, frolic, cavort, shrilly laughing, and gorging their bellies to bursting in riotous feasts, those who spend themselves indulging in every sensual pleasure imaginable... all while the Miserati loathsomely groan and suffer, endlessly humiliated, tricked, bedazzled, and terrified out of their wits Forever! Actually, for the vast majority of people, Impius Malum is a tremendous drag. A non-stop and wild-eyed game of deadly, horrifying, agonizing and humiliating tricks and traps, one after the other in a constant, incessant, ceaseless, and relentless progression. Every trick is unique, every trap shocking and disturbing, every combination mind-blistering in its terrifically ingenious terror! It's a World designed to entertain and delight those who are Truly Diabolically Evil via the mechanism of ceaseless torture and soul-searing terror. It is a Pandemonium of Evil Chaos. So fun! Well, compared with the World of Death, it definitely is. No seriously. Compared with that, it's a joy.

Welcome to the Wondrous World of Impius Malum!

The Wondrous World of Impius Malum

The Bosch painting above gives a wonderful depiction of a tiny little itty bitty speck of a spot within the greater World of Impius Malum... which happens to be just like this across its entire infinite domain, though every inch of it is completely, mind-warpingly, unique. No two horrors are the same, and every single nightmare is tailored specifically to accentuate and focus the mind on the specific and peculiar sins, fears, foibles, and once-upon-a-time hopes and dreams of the damned souls who happen to wind up trapped there. It is an incredibly personal place!  Very unlike the World of Death, it is. Indeed.  Let's take a quick jaunt through the insanity, shall we?

Above you will find... a green suited monster with tree-twig hands fondling a despairing, yet beautiful naked blond women with some sort of black toad-like thing on her chest, reclining limply next to a grinning black mule. Above and behind her a Bird-headed man-thing wearing green jars on his feet and a large copper kettle on his head, sitting on a tall golden toilet while devouring a bird-and-fire farting Miserati whole, from the head down. Beneath this bizarre yet elegant and beautiful looking creature is a large blue bubble-droplet of toilet water into which a man is descending from the bum of the Bird-man, while another man, already trapped in the hideous droplet, is half immersed from the groin up and dangling over an open pit in the ground, into which a grey skinned nun is forcing one man to vomit brown turds while another person poops white blobs from the shadows. Meanwhile, the languishing woman is staring listlessly over at horn blowing, and rather adorable looking, sado-rabbit who happens to be carrying half a man upside-down on a pole-arm over his shoulder, while the woman next to him, another naked and beautiful blond, is furtively reaching for a weasel faced monster's sword with one hand while incongruously holding both a burning candle and a white vase in her other hand. By the contortions of her face you can see her mind has entirely snapped. Before her is a gambling table that has been overturned by a riot of hapless humans being violently mauled by a variety of animal and insect devils. AND SO ON! IT IS ENDLESS!

Such is the World of Impius Malus. A place of perpetual delights and terrors.

Fortunately for those Characters that dwell in the normal World of Elthos, the World of Impius Malum is very, very far away, and quite imaginary, like a dreadful bit of fairy tale designed to terrorize little children into behaving themselves when the adults aren't watching them. One quip about Impius Malum is enough to set most children of Elthos straight in an instant! In fact, actually, most Player Characters in Elthos really have no idea at all that there even is such a place as Impius Malum. Not the faintest idea. They never even heard of the place. This is because we usually breeze over their Character's childhood, and so I never go into what Elthosian Fairytales are like.  Ha ha... they have no clue.  Seriously. I have only once alluded to it in the 40+ years or so I've been playing the World of Elthos. Impius Malum a very far off land, indeed!

Which isn't to say that it isn't real. Oh it's definitely real alright. In fact, the Player Characters recently (well, not so recently anymore, but in the last major Elthos Campaign) brushed up against a distant reflection of Impius Malum when they came to the township of Whitewode. I describe that place in some detail (and very little of it, in fact!) in a previous post titled "The Overly Ambitious Campaign Design!", so I won't go into it again in this post. That one was long enough on that topic! But I will say that if you read that post, and get an inkling of the endless convolutions and intrigues among the Witches of Whitewode, you'll have some idea of what the World of Impius Malum is like. Now I should say that the Witches of Whitewode were absolute amateurs at the game of Impius Malum, though they believed with a dreadful certainty otherwise. Scarparelli, I'd like to mention, knew exactly what tremendous fools Sylvia, Jennifer, Johnathan, Muttmaw and the rest of their coven were, and he never let on for a single second, nor did his demonic minion Nicholas Blair. They strung the jolly bunch along for centuries before allowing them to haplessly fall into the Horrors of Doom that they had spent so long crafting for themselves. This is what the World of Impius Malum is like. Only, incredibly, far worse than that!

The World of Impius Malum is on the far side of the axis of Evil. Whereas Death is Lawful Evil, Impius Malum is Chaotic Evil. And as such they share that one trait in common ... they are really, seriously, Evil.

Who rules Impius Malum? Some say it's the Devil himself. But this is actually not correct. The Devil rules over Hell. And Impius Malum isn't actually Hell. It is its own place. So who? Some say it is The Elkron of War, Mars, or his Celestial Sire, Ares, the Lord of All Evil Chaos. And that would be correct. If you are aware of the Elthos Tarot Deck, then at this point you'd realize that Death is Ruled by Pluto, or his Celestial Sire, Scorpio. You can check that on the Elthos Tarot Deck Backface card here...


So the World of Death and the World of Impius Malum are the two extremes of Evil along the Metaphysical Axis of the Celestial Island Cosmological Map.  If you want to find the World of Death, head East, and veer slightly South, and keep going.  If you want to find the World of Impius Malum, head West, and veer slightly South, and keep going.  You'll find them.  They're there. Very, very far away ... but there.

Such is the backdrop of the World of Elthos.

Maybe at some point I'll chat a bit about other, lighter and happier realms of the Celestial Island.  Perhaps.

To learn more about my Elthos Project, please visit my site at Elthos.com. And if you're feeling generous, please make a contribution. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Rays of Un-Life III

In my previous two posts I talked about the concept of the Runic Undead with the Rays of Un-Life.

The Rays of Un-Life

The Rays of Un-Life - Part II

Some of my readers on MeWe have posted questions, which I've answered there, so this post is a continuation and elaboration on those thoughts. Let's go.

It is notable that a Necromancer in possession of a Skull that emits the Rays of Un-Life has a very powerful artifact which can "see" things that normal mortals can not see by pointing its Rays of Un-Life in a given direction. This is because the Rays reflect the "Reality of Death" and show what it is that the Undead with Rays of Un-Life actually see. I elaborate on that in Post II, but suffice it to say they reveal the lies that people tell themselves, and the "true nature" of the individuals upon whom the "Dark Light" is cast. This, in the right hands, if used safely and with the right controls, could be of great value to extremely careful necromancers, evil wizards, anti-clerics or anti-paladins. For example, imagine the effectiveness of this device during Interrogation & Torture sessions? I'm sure exquisitely evil people could find many uses for such a thing. Many.

Emmett O'Brian Question: If I chop the head off does the skull still shoot out rays?

Yes. The Rune of Un-Life can only be destroyed by Remove Curse. Please don't blurt that out to your players, btw. Read the previous post on my blog for the Part I section on this if you haven't already. Also note, a silver mirror can be used to deflect the Rays of Un-Life.

Emmett O'Brian Question: So could I use a silver mirrored ball with a little hole in it to make an unlife laser? That's all I really want.

This is the kind of artifact that the Necromancer of Note will think up. Making the thing, however, would take a great deal of effort, and require not only a large amount of silver, but the appropriate safeguards. Necromancers, after all, are not necessarily all that keen on being destroyed by the Ray of Un-Life either. See additional notes below.

Jon Salway Question: For games with ‘Save vs x, y & z’, what are characters saving against if ‘struck’ by such beams?

I'd go with Death Ray.



Additional Notes

Remember, not all animated Skeletons have the Rays of Un-Life. Only those that a Necromancer performs the Ceremony on, and inscribes the Rune of Un-Life upon. You could also, btw, have Zombies, Ghouls, Vampires or Mummies with the Rays of Un-Life, potentially as well.

I would make Runic Un-Life Skeletons Rare. A Necromancer would almost always animate undead Skeletons of the "normal" variety. Those that patrol the dungeon corridors, attack intruders, guard treasures, and/or obey commands. Only one in a hundred encounters with Skeletons might entail meeting an Un-Life Runic Skeleton. And when this does happen, ideally, it should come as a Big Huge Frikkin Surprise to the players!

In any event, I recommend playing up the horror aspect for these creatures. They should be intensely purposeful, highly intelligent and deeply insightful. Their goal is to create Despair-Unto-Death...

Since the Ray of Un-Life emits from the eyes of the Skeleton whatever it gazes at should reflect their Un-Life vision ... so as GM you really want to be very well tuned into your Player Character's deepest flaws and creatively represent them as the "Ray of Un-Life" would reveal them (see post II for more detail). For example, the greedy thief, when gazed upon, reflects an eery dark light and beneath it appears to the other PCs as a worm-in-cloths (or worm enshrouded) with long spindly arms ending in wriggling bony fingers ... the Character's sins should be represented in whatever form they see ... and as the other PCs see this, he of course is rolling Saves vs the Un-Life Rays and losing Mystic Power (in Elthos that equates to Mystic Points, though in other systems you could use Hit Points, or whatever may seem appropriate). When the gaze passes over to another Character, they see the next entirely other-world and horrible reflection (be as cold and brutal with this as possible - spare no punches - this is the Vision of the Dark World of Death!) ... and there is the thief, laying on the ground fibrillating with fear, or paralysis, or insanity, or dying ... (provided he missed his save).... GM Discretion advised. Salt to taste.

On the other hand, the Runic Skeletons should not be invincible, though they certainly will definitely portray themselves as such, and with good reason. Their view is that of Death itself. They have no individual personality, goals, hopes or dreams at all. Zero. So they have every reason to project their Cause as omnivorous unstoppable Reality. One has a greater chance of stopping Cthulhu than the Black Dimension of Death Itself. And that is exactly who all Runic Undead represent. BUT! That said, they should be played as slow movers, and despite great strength and/or near-invulnerability physically (such as the Stone Skeleton), they simply are quite poor physical combatants. In fact, they far prefer to rely on their mental attacks to gain victory as their goal is to drink in (and extinguish) the Life Energy of the Ultimately Defeated. From this death there is no resurrection, no reincarnation, and no hope. It is ultimate and permanent death, and worse - the victim becomes one of the Ultimate Dead and joins them as an undead creature.

The Un-Life Rune is known as The Eye of Death. Its meaning is literal. It is the literal eye of the God of Death. And the mind within the Skeleton (or any Undead with the Rune) is that of the Death God itself. Therefore, the Runic Undead does not have any will of its own at all, but is an avatar of Death - the eyes, ears and mouth of the God of Death. So unlike ordinary undead which will obey the Necromancer, the Runic Undead will definitely not. In fact, it is very likely that the Necromancer will be destroyed upon creating the monster unless very serious precautions are taken.

You would think that the Necromancer ought to be an ally of such creatures, since it is the Necromancer who creates them. However, to Death, the Necromancer is an insignificant tool, a ridiculous creature under the same illusions of life as every other living thing... the Skeleton will have zero sympathy for the Necromancer, and will seek to slake its infinite thirst on whatever closest living thing appears before it - especially the Necromancer. So Necromancers beware... this is NOT a toy! It is an absolute abomination, and menace to all Life - including, and especially, yours!

It should also be noted that 1 in 100 Runic Skeletons will ALSO come with some form of mystic transformation. In my first post I mentioned two possibilities, the Burnt Skeleton, and the Stone Skeleton. Brass, Iron, Steel, Emerald, Diamond*, etc are all possible and the GM should carefully consider what Power (and vulnerability) comes with each. These are Lord Runic Undead, and are the Rulers of the other Runic Undead. And so, once created, and after slaking their thirst the other Runic Undead will seek out the closest Lord Runic Skeleton to follow. They will know unerringly what direction their Lord is, and immediately begin their slow inexorable march towards it, devouring any and every living thing in their path. This includes animals, insects, and plants... Any spark of life within 20 feet of the creature will be devoured as it moves. If there are no Lord Runic Undead in the World when it is created, the Runic Undead will perform as one would expect... it will wander aimlessly, randomly destroy any life in its path.

Lord Runic Skeletons are Major Curses of the World. They are extremely rare, and usually only one will exist at a time. They are the equivalent of a Lich, but not the same. They do not cast spells, but do have powers related to their form. They will never ally with a lich, but will seek to control them, draining the Lich's last remaining vestiges of Life Energy, which are embodied in its personality and will. Therefore even Liches greatly fear the Lord Runic Undead. No one wants to be sucked into its Abyss of Ultimate Finality.

I should mention that Life Energy comes in two forms in my game of Elthos. One is measured in Life Points, which are physical and akin to Hit Points, and the other are measured in Mystic Points, which reflect the Character's spiritual force. While the Runic Undead will certainly physically kill living things by brute force whenever the need arises, their preference is to drain the creature's Mystic Energies, thereby extinguishing them, and thereby reducing the amount of life in the Universe.

In this regard, it should be remembered that the primary attack of the Runic Undead is against the Will of the Living. As such it will seek to use its Vision and its words to cause Despair. In the eyes of Death, life is temporary, futile, and agonizingly, infuriatingly absurd. In Death's eyes, Life itself is the disease. Death, the god, as a Truly Lawful Entity, wants the universe cleansed completely of Life itself.

Of course one might ask, why haven't such dread creatures destroyed the living already? What's up with that? These sound like practically omnipotent monsters! Read on.

There is a counterpoint to the Vision of Death, of course, otherwise life would never have survived to begin with. And that is the Vision of Life! These are two diametrically opposing viewpoints on what the Reality of the Universe really is. Is Life the Illusion, or Death?

Somehow it will be in each player's hands to either succumb to the arguments of Death (aka Vision or Words of Death), or overcome them. As they say, "Hope springs eternal". It is up to the Players to battle the Despair of Death's words in the realm of the Mind and Spirit.

Whenever they fiercely counter Death's Words or Vision with the Words of Life, they should get high bonuses on their Saves, or in the Elthos System, their Mystic Armor Class is Augmented considerably. Such decisions must be made via Adjudication by the GM. Listen to the words that the Player speaks in response. Add bonuses if the Words are Anti-Death, and more if they are delivered with conviction (spirit)!

For an example of a Paladin failing this check, read the end of Part II of this series.

Finally ... The Runic Undead are not actually invulnerable, nor all that powerful in a physical sense. They have one power which is the Ray of Un-Life, formidable, but not unstoppable. The Runic Undead, however, can be destroyed by a successful Remove Curse, While Lord Runic Undead require 3 successful Remove Curses to be destroyed. Their Un-Life Rays can be thwarted by silver mirrors, and their Vision of Death can be countered by Words of Life.

Important Note:  Once the Players "get the trick" on fighting the Words of Death with Words of Life, the gig will be up for the Runic Undead.  Most of their punch relies on their victims falling for the "inexorable logic of Death".  This is why you want to keep this close to your chest, and hopefully your players have never run into these particular blog posts.  That said, once the gig is up, that does not mean the fight is over at all.  Should their primary attack fail, the Runic Undead, and in particular the Lords of the Runic Undead, will resort to blunt force violence to achieve their goals. They will summon any "normal" undead to help them do so, if possible.  They may even keep a ridiculous and wretched Necromancer or Lich on hand for such occasions.  Remember they are highly intelligent creatures... but they do not cast spells, and so they can not create undead. 

I advise GMs to play such creatures close to the chest. Have fun with it. These are Dire Monsters, but with vulnerabilities that should make them interesting, and not necessarily overwhelming to Player Characters who keep their wits about them, and show some courage in the face of Horror.

For myself I would start a campaign based on this with a slow rollout in mind. A foolish Necromancer creating undead to fulfill his evil purposes ... one day goes too far...

Your job, Adventurers, is to find the thing, undo the damage and stop the Horror before it's too late! Good luck!!

* - as an aside, but of interest here, the God of Death, in classical mythology, also happens to be known as the God of Wealth. The dead dwell under the earth in their graves (gravity), and under the earth is where all such minerals and elements of great wealth are found ... gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds... all known to the God of Wealth, Death. One can see the connection here in regards to my Runic Undead in so far as Death values what? Those things that are both not alive, and also those things that last for very, very long periods of time. Like diamonds, gold, iron, and so on. These are the treasures of Death, to whom they have intrinsic value. Not only that, but these elements also possess amazing powers, when assembled correctly. As it happens the human race has become adept at such assemblies... and in our modern era we have innovated all kinds of technological "miracles" because of our knowledge. But imagine a world in which Death is real, and the world of Dark Energy and Matter are real ... in such a world non-living, but sentient beings might exist, and also be able to mold the elements into machines. Machines of the Dark Dimension! Perhaps some day Death will get fed up with the tit-for-tat war he has waged against Life, and come from the Black Depths with his Dark-Matter Robot Army wielding their Dark-Energy Cannons. Perhaps.