Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Notes on OD&D - Part 24

Ok, lets continue with the 5th Level Spells...

Men & Magic
  • p28 - Explanation of Spells - 5th Level
Animate Dead: The creation of animated skeletons or zombies. It in no way brings a creature back to life. For the number of dead animated simply roll one die for every level above the 8th the Magic User is, thus a "Sorcerer" gets one die or from 1-6 animated dead. Note that the skeletons or dead bodies must be available in order to animate them. The spell lasts until dispelled or the animated dead are done away with.

KerrrPow!  That's HEFTY.  If you're the chaotic sort, and don't have qualms about waking up grandma to fight for you, this is your spell, bro!  I see no downsides, and no risk.  Just wave yer Magic Hands in the air and you've got yourself some Undead!  If we just jump ahead to Volume II - Monsters & Treasures for a second, we find out:

Skeletons / Zombies: Skeletons and Zombies act only under the instructions of their motivator (that's you, bro), be it a Magic-User, or Cleric (Chaos)(remember this is OD&D - there ain't no stinking Good or Evil). They are usually only found near graveyards, forsaken places, and dungeons; but there is a possibility of their being located elsewhere to guard some item (referee's option).  There is never any morale check for these monsters; they will always attack until totally wiped out.  
- M&T p. 9.

So there you have it.  Totally solid monsters under your command.  All you need to do is be near some dead people and you're golden ... or charcoalish, as the case may be.  The fact that they will hang out until destroyed is a huge bonus.  It means you can order them around basically forever. Need your house cleaned and too much of a cheapskate to hire a maid?  Zombie-Maid at your service.  Pesky kids always sneaking into your pantry?  Skeletal Cookie Jar Guardian is there for you. And so on.  And when it comes to fighting... well aren't Undead usually hard to beat?  Well... not really all that hard to beat if you check out their stats.  And if you happen to have even a pretty lowly Cleric, you're odds are not bad that you can handle them.  Also, I notice that some people have suggested that in the older versions of D&D silver weapons were required to do damage to skeletons and zombies, however, I'm not seeing that in the OD&D rules, so I think I'll just pass over that.  At any rate, here's the undead turning chart for Clerics.

Cleric Turn Chart: 
Cleric Level        1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Skeleton (½ HD)     7 T T D D D D D
Zombie (1 HD)       9 7 T T D D D D

Overall, this is certainly a kickass spell.  One assumed you must be Chaotic to use it, however.  So keep that in mind.

I rate this spell 5 Stars (out of 5) for Usefulness.


Magic Jar: By means of this device the Magic User houses his life force in some inanimate object (even a rock) and attempts to possess the body of any other creature within 12" (360') of his Magic Jar.  The container for his life force must be within 3" (90') of his body at the time the spell is pronounced.  Possession of another body takes place when the creature in question fails to make its saving through against magic.  If the possessed body is destroyed, the spirit of the Magic User returns to the Magic Jar, and from thence it may attempt another possession or return to the Magic User's body.  The spirit of the Magic User can return to the Magic Jar any time he so desires.  Note that if the body of the Magic User is destroyed the life force must remain in a possessed boyd or the Magic Jar.  If the Magic Jar is destroyed the Magic User is totally annihilated.

Hmmm... hmmm... hmmmm... This is really kind of complicated.  Neat, for sure, but ... complicated. I'm trying to think when I would want to use a Magic Jar.  The problem, of course is that it is rather risky.  If I use Magic Jar and my body is destroyed then I'm stuck in the Magic Jar, or in the body of someone else.  The thing is, my body must be within 90' of the Jar for me to execute the spell, and that would likely mean that I have to absolutely ensure that my body remains safe while I'm using the Magic Jar.  Ok.  And then what do I do with the Magic Jar?  I possess someone else's body who is within 360'.  It doesn't say what happens to the spirit of the creature who I've possessed, but I'm going to guess it goes into the Magic Jar, like a prison.  From there I can use the creature's body.  Maybe to fight, or do an errand, or I don't know.  Sweeping is always good.  But ok, let's say it's to fight my opponents who have invaded my secret Wizard Lair.  Fine.  So some group comes in, I use Magic Jar and take possession of one of them.  His spirit is in the Magic Jar, and I do my best to use the possessed Character to fight the other ones.  Ok.  Let's say they are like "Oh snap!" and kill their buddy.  Then I can try another member of their party.  Through this process, maybe I can whittle down the whole group.  So I either kill them, or they kill the possessed body, and I wind up back in the Magic Jar.  We'll assume that when the other guy dies his spirit vacates the Jar and goes to heaven.  I hope he left the place clean.  Ok, so that's a use for it. I can kind of see it.  Sort of.  More or less.  But what happens if the party discovers my body, which is somewhere within 90'.  While my one guy is fighting their group, one of them lopes on over to my body with a torch and voila - I'm forever stuck in the Magic Jar.  Or in someone else's body.  Ok.  That might not be so bad, I guess.  Especially if the new body happens to be a lot better than my old one.  So fine.  But that's not the only risk here.  What if instead of finding my body, the other party finds my Magic Jar?  I think a simple Detect Magic might reveal it's location.  Pretty sure.  So their Magic User shouts "It's that rock over there in the corner!" and the big burly fighter lopes on over and smashes it with his warhammer. WTF?!  Maybe, though I'm really super smart and I put the Magic Jar inside a secret door.  Whatever. The Detect Magic is going to spot it anyway.  Maybe I hide it behind a stone wall.  Ok, but they still know where it is because Detect Magic is kind of kick ass that way.  According to this site, Detect Magic has a Range of 6" (180').  Since I need to be within 90' to cast the spell, it means that any dumb-luck MU that comes along can locate the Magic Jar with a simple Detect Magic.  Yay.  From there it's just a matter of time before my Character gets annihilated.  If they know what Magic Jar is, and if they have an MU with Detect Magic.  Chances are they do.  And they do.  So.  Bleh.  Not too happy with this spell.  Too complicated.  To risky.  Not liking.

I rate this Spell 2 Stars for Usefulness.


Contact Higher Plane: This spell allows the magical-type to seek advice and gain knowledge from creatures inhabiting higher plances of existence (the referee).  Of course, the higher the plane contacted, the greater the number of questions that can be asked, the greater the chance that the information will be known, and the higher probability that the question will be answered truthfully.  Use the table below to determine these factors, as well as the probability of the Magic User going insane.  Only questions which can be answered "Yes" or "No" are permitted.

The Chart

Ok... What do I make of them apples?  Gosh... The higher Level the MU the greater the chance of going insane, but also the less chance of getting the answer wrong.  Inverse risk.  Ouch.  And it's a Yes or No only question.  And the creature from the other plane (the GM) has to be willing to tell the answer.  So lets check this out.  I'm 3rd Level.  I ask "Did the Wizard Magic Jar himself just now?" The Other World Thing (that bastard) knows the answer?  25% chance.  Is he willing to tell me the Truth?  30% chance.  Total Chance of my getting a valid answer seems kind of low.  At least I have no chance of going insane.  Lets do it the other way.  I'm 12th Level.  Chance of getting a valid answer:  Pretty high (almost 100%)... but the chance of my going insane? 90%!?!  WTF!?!  So the higher level I get the less often I'm going to use this spell, fo shizzle-dizzledy-doo!   No freakin way I'm taking more than a 10% chance on going insane.  Even taking the 10% chance of going insane is ... insane.  I won't do it.  So in other words...Unless the situation is such an astounding emergency that with divine help in the way of a "Yes" or "No" we're TOTALLY screwed ... I won't use this spell. Sorry, fellas... let me mention though, you probably do not want an insane MU hanging out with you. Really.  Believe me.  You don't.

I'm going to rate this spell 1 Star for Usefulness... because as far as my MU is concerned, after 3rd Level it's pretty much useless because I ain't gonna take that chance.  And you shouldn't let me, either.

Mm... ok, I think I've spun my doilies on this enough for tonight.  I'll pick this up again next time with ... Pass Wall (sounds promising).

Monday, March 28, 2016

On Modes of Play in Tabletop RPGs

I was browsing theRPGSite just now and ran across an interesting comment regarding modes of play for RPGs.  The point was made that originally the GM rolled all the dice and the players were kept out of the mechanics and the point of this was to enhance immersion (or the chance thereof).  I thought I'd pipe up and offer my own experience with the two modes of play and so here it is...

1: 5e D&D actually has one optional suggestion of the DM rolling everything. Its been suggested as a method as far back as AD&D in Dragon.

2: The OP was asking about the extreme end of the immersion spectrum and that can get very close to removing the game part or even removing the DM. Depending on how far at the extreme you wanted to get. If its merely "The DM handles everything and the players interact with the mechanics as close to nil as possible." then its still a game.
On the first point, this idea goes all the way back to Original D&D and is strongly implied in Men & Magic on page 10:

"The Referee rolls 3d6 for each requisite of the Character"

Note: That the player does not roll their own requisites is very interesting and suggests that the Referee always rolls the dice, never the players. I mean after all, at the point of creating their Character one would think this is the most logical place for the player to roll dice, if there is any place at all.

As to the second point...

When I first started GMing in 1978 I didn't let the players even know my homebrew rules at all.  My play mode was completely 'Behind The Screen'.  I rolled everything and they role played their characters. I didn't use miniatures, nor did I show them the maps. They had to map on their own from my descriptions of the terrain or dungeon, and quite often they got it wrong, which was part of the fun of the game.

The reason I, and my fellow GMs in my town during this period, chose to write own own homebrew rules and not show the rules to the players was to cut down on rules lawyering, and to allow the players to immerse completely in the world, rather than focus on the mechanics.

Over time however, I evolved the other way and began not only to share the rules, but also began to use tactical maps with counters representing characters. I changed the mode of play because it became increasingly clear that there could be a lot of fun had by the players if they could get involved with the mechanics. The problem with doing it the other way was that they never could quite visualize accurately the scene, or know with precision what their characters could do or were up against (tactically speaking). Everything was left a little fuzzy and while immersive from a narrative perspective, also resulted in tactical errors that their characters might not have made were they actually on the scene. Tactical planning was not a part of my game originally, and it had its pros and cons. Later, when I changed the mode, sharing the rules and maps, tactics could then become a much stronger part of the game. I found that my players enjoyed that a lot as well, and it solved some of the problems with tactics being "realistic" to what the Characters would actually have done were they on the scene.

No matter how you do it, there's pros and cons, and the more you lean to one side, the more you get the benefits and deficits of that mode.

So now I play a kind of fused-hybrid mode. Sometimes I get down and gritty with maps and tokens, and it's very specifically about tactics of combat. Other times it is fuzzy and narrative. The choice largely depends on the circumstances and how perceive the mood of the room. Sometimes we simply want to romp through the story and tactical considerations, being such as they are, burden us with details that slow the story down. Other times the players seem rather intent on "getting it right" with a specific combat situation, and don't want to take any chances. In these cases they get very detailed with the ranges and positions and order of actions in order to maximize their changes of success.

As for me, I genuinely enjoy both modes, and so I play it either way and it suits me fine.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My First Little Promo Piece for Elthos

I'm teaching myself Lightworks Video Editing and this is the first piece I put together. Music kindly contributed via Creative Commons by spinningmerkaba.  Piece: -05-Fistful_of_Dub_Fe­at_Snowflake_and_DJVadim

I thought it was fun enough to put up and share with you good people.  :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Notes on OD&D - Part 23

Ok, Next up - 5th Level Spells... alrighty!  What have we got here...?

Men & Magic
  • p28 - Explanation of Spells - 5th Level
Teleport: Instantaneous transportation from place to place, regardless of the distance involved, provided the user knows where he is going (the topography of the arrival area). Without certain knowledge of the destination teleportation is 75% uncertain, so a score of less than 75% of the percentile dice results in death.  If the user is unaware of the general topography of his destination, but has not carefully studied it, there is an uncertainty factor of 10% low and 10% high.  A low score (1 - 10%) means death of solid material is contacted.  A high score (91 - 100%) indicates a fall from 10 to 100 feet, also possibly resulting in death.  If a careful study of the destination has been previously made, then the Magic User has only aq 1% chance of teleporting low and a 4% chance of coming out high (10-40 feet).

Right. Ok. Yup.  That's kind of harsh in a way.  It makes Teleport pretty risky no matter how well you've studied the terrain with a 5% chance of getting your scrawny butt killed or wounded even if you happen to be an expert on the topography of said terrain.  Given the penalty is instant death for an unlucky jaunt to hither thither and yon... woah.  I'm pretty sure my MU is going to use this one very sparingly, and be pretty damn nervous when he does.  Just a hunch.

Nevertheless, being able to Teleport is pretty damn cool.

Also notable... the MU can not Teleport others.  Which of course would be cool.  If you could Teleport monsters 20 feet down, for instance, or 100 feet up... well you get the idea.  Suddenly it becomes a pretty fantastic offensive weapon.  But no such luck.

I'm going to rate this a 3 out of 5 Stars for usefulness on the grounds that I would only use it sparingly.


Hold Monster: Same as Hold Person but applied to monsters.

Mmmm.... well it would have been much cooler if it had been Charm Monsters because the lowly Charm spell is the best!  But still, Hold Monster allows the user to affect up to 4 monsters for 6 + Caster Level number of turns.  And has a Range of 12" (360').  When that Quartet of Dragons arrives... you know what to do.  In fact that's pretty cool as there seems to be no restriction to what you can have the Monsters do for that 6+ turns ... including "go ahead and kill each other".  If you're lucky they will be taken care of and you can go on your merry way.  So ... not bad.  Not as great as the limitless Charm, but ... I'm ok with it.

I rate this 4 Stars for usefulness.

Conjure Elemental: A spell to conjure an Air, Water, Fire or Earth Elemental.  Only one of each type can be conjured by a Magic User during any one day.  The Elemental will remain until dispelled, but the Magic User must concentrate on control or the elemental will turn upon its conjurer and attack him (see CHAINMAIL).  Conjured elementals are the strongest with 16 hit dice as is explained in Volume II, Monsters and Treasure.  Range: 24" (720').

Yep, hefty stuff.  That bit about them doing your bidding as long as you concentrate on them is very cool. Of course it also says that they will tear you a new one if you lose concentration so that's kind of a big risk if you ask me.  If I see a wizard conjuring a Fire Elemental I'm thinking my first order of business is to throw pebbles at the poor unwitting bastard.  Doink.  Oh my.  He didn't last long.  And then the Elemental vanishes and all is good with the world again.   Yup...That stands out as a big risk in my mind.  On the other hand, what could one do with an Elemental given the premise that distractions won't be an issue?  A LOT!  And one of each type per day?  Wow!  That's pretty awesome!  Earth Elementals can build the castle, The fire Elemental create a molten moat.  The Water elemental a deep fresh water spring.  And the Air Elemental ... um ... well I'll think of something, I'm sure.  In fact, I'm sure that there's so much one could do with Elementals it is an awesome spell.  The risk factor, though, does take a bit of the shine off.  Hmm...

Ok, I'm giving this a 4 Stars for usefulness.

Telekenesis: By means of this spell objects may be moved by mental force.  Weight limits are calculated by level of the Magic User by 200 Gold Pieces weight.  Thus a "Necromancer" is able to move a weight equal to 2000 Gold Pieces.  Duration: 6 Turns.  Range 12".

Mmm... not bad.  200 Gold Pieces (ounces?) per Level MU, I am thinking.  Is that right?  According to this there are 10 Gold Pieces to the pound.  So that means that the MU can move 20 lbs per level. Our Necromancer can move 200 lbs (why didn't hey just say so?  Meh).  Well, that's still quite good! Duration is solid at 6 turns but does imply that you can't expect to do any long distance hauling.  But you can throw stuff around, or move heavy things out of the way.  You could even position a boulder or something over the enemy and let it drop at the right time.  I'm good with that.  And I'm not seeing any risks.  Solid spell.

I rate this 5 Stars for usefulness.

Transmute Rock to Mud: The spell takes effect in one turn, turning earth, sand and of course rock to mud.  The area affected is up to 30 square inches (900 square feet).  Creatures moving into the mud will become mired, possibly sinking if heavy enough, or losing 90% of movement otehrwise, unless able to fly or leveltate.  the spell can only be countered by reversing the incantation (requiring a Transmute Rock to Mud spell) or by normal process of evaporation (3 - 18 days as determined by rolling three six-sided dice). Range: 12" (360').

Ok so as anyone who knows military history - mud is the army killer.  This seems like a right good spell to have if you are going to be dealing with infantry or troops coming at you over rocky, sandy, or dirty(?) ground.  Mud!  They're trapped and sinking!   Archers Aim!  Archers Fire!  A few screams later you're ready to go on your merry way.  Not bad.   This would also hold true for all those heavy boned monsters that like to stomp their way over the party, such as giants, ogres and the like.  And not seeing much in the way of risk either.  So this is pretty good.

I rate this spell 5 Stars for usefulness.

Wall of Stone: The creation of a stone wall two feet thick with a maximum length and height equaling 10 square inches (300 square feet).  The wall will last until dispelled, broken down or battered through as a usual stone wall.  Range: 6" (120').

Roger that.  If you need to get away, this is your spell.  I'm thinking it's going to be pretty useful at certain times, but not all that often, actually.  I mean we're adventurers, right?  We don't run away from a fight, right?  Riiiight.  Anyway, not bad.  Don't see much Risk.   Not all that amazing but not bad.

I rate this spell 3 Stars for usefulness.

Wall of Iron:  Like a Wall of Stone, but the thickness of the wall is three inches and it's maximum area 5 square inches.  Duration: 12 turns.  Range: 6" (180').

To me this seems about as effective as a two foot thick stone wall, I guess.  Not sure what the advantage to Iron over stone is.  Both can be battered down, it would seem.  The only real difference it seems is that the Iron Wall has a limiting duration.  I'm not seeing any big advantage to it.  Maybe there is one, but it's not apparent from a reading of this rule.  I would take the Stone Wall, frankly.

I rate this spell 2 Stars for usefulness based on it's limitation.

Ok, I'm going to leave it here for today.  Not bad.  5th Level spells are risky, but also pack a lot of punch.  I'd be pretty jazzed to be a Wizard with access to these spells, I can tell ya.  Pretty jazzed indeed.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Racism as "A Thing" in Historical and Fantasy Fiction

I'm going to post this verbatim response to a post by Jens D. which can be read here on Google+.  The original Blog Post by Jens D. can be found here.  (Edit:  Jens D. actually changed his text in response to my post on his google+ post.  He originally had written "They are all a bit fanatic and racist, I'm afraid.", but then changed "racist" to "preachy".)

I'm going to go on a pretty wild tangent now, but there is a point to the madness (I think) if you are willing to bear with me.

One tip off to me was the comment about racism. Bringing up that issue in your text was something that kind of broke suspension of disbelief (if I can refer to it that way). Or maybe I should say it tamped down the Vibe for me. In other words, the issue of racism as "a thing" that should be considered negative by our standards is something that I feel was never "a thing" until very recent history. So when i see RPGs that make an issue of it, comment on it, or embed our modern anti-Racism ideology into their games, I always wind up feeling that all that's happening is a superimposition of modern sentiments onto a past that never was. So it always strikes me as against the grain, and it kind of spoils the Vibe. Because if we go back to the Wild West, for example, if we really stood there and talked with people, we would find zero percent of people discussing, or thinking about, racism as "a thing".

That's because for 6,000+ years of human history, racism was normal, and everyone, absolutely _everyone_ was a complete and total Racist. And not a single person anywhere thought there was anything the least tiny bit wrong with it. And if you tried to get them to see the modernist point of view about racism being "bad" they would in all likelihood think that you are completely crazy - because racism was considered basic fundamental _common sense_. Everyone knew that different races had different, identifiable characteristics. It was, from their point of view, a fact of life, and reacting to those racist identifications was normal and from their point of view completely appropriate. We simply look at the entire thing totally differently now. But they didn't. And when creating stories for modern audiences about The Past ... it's a problem. People now are so invested in the Modern Morality that they simply can't escape it. And everything is flipped exactly on it's head. If you present the Normal Racist viewpoint from the past without condemning it then you are considered crazy by today's standards. And this creates a huge disconnect. And it's definitely a problem in my opinion. You wind up getting pigeon-holed into creating characters in the past who are "heroic" _because_ they stand up against the "Isms" (Racism being the chief, but of course Sexism, comes into play as well as others).

Where do we get this from? Mostly from Hollywood, actually. Every movie about the past does this exact thing. So it's made us all feel as though we are swimming in a gigantic sea of Moral Rightness because in every direction we look (the entire media landscape) we are told that this is the "right, just, proper and heroic way" to look at things. And maybe it is. But it certainly is NOT the way people in the past looked at it. And so when writing fiction, or RPG Worlds, we run into this problem. But most people, don't think it's a problem. They simply accept it as "normal". And I find that both odd, funny, and a bit disconcerting.

Ok, that's my rant. It's something I struggle with in my own game. My players frequently bring their 21st Century attitudes and morality into my fantasy-medieval-gothic world - where those moralities do not exist for anyone else. In one way it sets the group apart as "heroes of worthy causes" (after all, I"m not saying the modern morality is wrong, I'm only saying that no one from any previous period of history shared these views, and if you held them at any time in the past you would be considered crazy by their lights. I am also not saying that they were wrong and we are right. I'm saying - it's different and we should at least acknowledge that.).

So what does this all have to do with your presentation of The Grind!? Hmmm... oh heck. I'm not sure. I guess this has to do with the Fourth Wall thing. If you speak through the Fourth Wall then yes, we understand that you're talking to us, the modern world. But when you are presenting The Vibe of The Grind, I guess I'd be confused if you brought racism into it in anything other than "yup, racism is normal", because that's what would be normal in any other setting than The Modern 21st Century world. I think so. I may be the only one, though. So take it with a grain of salt. Just my thoughts, random as they may be, on the subject.

I mention it because for me it is what makes writing flavor text interesting and challenging. And I put most of that challenge on my readers, because I'm challenging them to Think Like A Native... in other words, get out of your 21st Century biases (which may actually be totally wrong, after all) and actually consider things from another, older, point of view for a while. After all, we're doing Fantasy here, not Reality.

Hmm... I realize what I'm saying is probably completely anti-Politically Correct, but this is how I think, and so there you have it. It might be something to consider. Or not.

Sorry for the long and probably somewhat incoherent anti-PC ramble.

While all of this is may not be entirely coherent (I think I'm coming down with a cold so my ability to focus my thoughts is a bit diminished, if not entirely so), I nevertheless think the topic is interesting, and pertinent to our community of RPG World Weavers and those writing historical fiction of various kinds.

I will caveat my comment with a couple of additional points.

1) I think some writers out there do not kowtow to the PC of our day, and when I read their books I find all of the racism one would expect from previous ages, and to me it reads "realistic" to the age. As this phenomenon is relatively new, and I tend to stick with classical literature (currently reading Three Kingdoms), I'm not sure my perspective on this in terms of modern literature is all that accurate.  So take it with a grain of salt that I "know what I'm yakking about" ... there's a pretty good chance I don't.

2) I'm pretty much responding to The Culture Wars perception I have of modern society as it relates to what I tend to read in and about RPGs.   I'm extrapolating from this to other segments of literature and film, but I think the argument holds pretty much across the board.

3) I realize there are most certainly exceptions to what I'm grousing about.  My intention is to go hyperbolic (a common pastime these days) in order to "raise awareness of the issue" (a common tactic these days).

Ok that's it for the caveats.  I'm very curious to hear what people think of this issue. Thanks.