Thursday, April 27, 2017

Setting up the Business - The Challenges Thus Far

As I go through the process of starting my own online business I am discovering some interesting, odd, and frustrating things along the way. It seems there'a a lot of confusion as to how to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that is both economically realistic, and legally valid. In fact, those two are at such odds it almost feels at times like it's impossible to do both.

I'll provide a few examples.

1. COPPA. As some of you know I've run up against the COPPA laws earlier and paid a fortune to my lawyer to resolve the question. It was incredibly expensive to finally get an answer. So it was NOT cost effective at all to go through all of that. And even when all was said and done, I'm still potentially vulnerable to accusations of COPPA non-compliance, though at least now I have a reasonably well founded way of arguing my case in court, should it come up. The tricks involve not allowing anyone under 13 on my site (legally - ie - the terms of service prohibit it), and to also not collect any personally identifiable information (which may hobble my marketing efforts, but what the hell - I'd rather be a little hobbled than in jeapardy of the Government's $60,000 - $360,000 dollar fines ( The odd part about this one is that I notice many popular websites in the RPG community are completely ignoring this threat. Ok. Good luck. It may turn out that the Government is a gigantic paper tiger and just tries to scare everyone into giving them money but in fact never actually gets around to dealing with companies that scoff at their laws. Could well be. No idea. But apparently that is the gamble many of our RPG online services are gambling on. Ok. Best wishes.

2. DMCA. You need to have this protection if you have a website where people can upload or create content. It protects you from copyright infringement by your users. Another legal barrier, but at least with this one I was able to figure out a way to make it not-soul-crushingly expensive to deal with. In this case the standard procedure is that you get a DMCA Agent to handle DMCA requests and pass them along to you with a tad bit of advice. Typically however, DMCA Agents are lawyers who charge you their standard legal fee for handling incoming requests. That might run somewhere between $100 - 400 per DMCA request. The problem, actually, however comes from the fact that they will charge you that standard rate for processing anything that comes into their office via whatever means it has been sent. Since the law has it that you must put in your Terms of Service your valid DMCA Agent contact information, which includes an email address, phone number and physical address (PO Box not allowed - it must be a valid street address), what do you suppose happens when spammers get a hold of that information? They spam away, of course. And guess what? The DMCA Agent will very happily go on to charge you for their time in weeding out spam from legitimate DMCA correspondence. Funny that. The solution? Get a Street Address box from UPS for $350 / year (roughly) and handle the DMCA take down requests yourself. Yes it's a cost. But it sure as hell beats the $2500 setup fee that the DMCA Agent wants to charge, and then the ongoing fees for processing the copious amount of spam that is likely to start coming your way after the spammers get to your Terms of Service.

3. Subscription Service State Tax. It used to be that websites were exempt from sales tax, and no states charged a tax on services run via the internet. That was great for early startups. Now? Oh noooo. Now everyone has to pay the State Taxes wherever the individual States have determined that they charge for Internet Subscription Services (Software as an Service aka SaaS). A lot of States don't, but a lot do. And not only that, but they may charge different rates based on the exact street address of the customer. So two guys living next door to each other may wind up paying a different sales tax rate on your subscription service. And you have to account for it, and pay those States the correct tax per customer. Yay. Fun stuff. So how are you expected to do that? Well I'm trying to work that one out now, but it's a bear. So far I have it that if you sell PDFs through DriveThruRPG or IPR then you're covered because they are responsible for handling the tax.

But what if you are running a subscription service that does GMing functions, like Roll20, or CityOfBrass? Well, then you're pretty much SOL so far as State Tax requirements are concerned. You have to pay them, or you risk running up against the IRS. And who really wants that to happen? Well, apparently some of the existing companies running SaaS services for the RPG community don't actually give a fig about it, because it seems that they're not charging any taxes on their subscription services. Or at least if they are they are giving no indication of doing so - and I think that if they are, then they actually do need to be indicating that they are doing so on the subscription payment page. Maybe they are. But I see no indication of it so far. At any rate, what's the solution look like? It's hard. As far as I can tell what you can't do is use PayPal for subscription services because their method of maintaining the tax information is not only completely manual, but also limited to entering one tax percent per State, which isn't what is required. Too limited, and so you may still run up against the IRS if you take that route. So that's not an answer. An alternative is to use a service like ChargeBee, which does payment services, and integrate that with another service named Avalara, which handles State Tax rates. The two of them combined ought to provide you with a means by which you can handle State Taxes automatically, without having to get your hands dirty with a manual process. However, setting that up seems to be a bit complicated. At least I'm unclear as to the process at this point. Maybe it's easy in the end. But I'm doing a lot of research in advance to try to figure this out, and so that's chewing up a lot of my time. In the end, the solution may turn out to be really easy and not too expensive. But I'm not there yet. So I don't know. I can hope, though, right? And don't even get me started on the EU VAT. My solution to that is simple: I'm not offering my service outside of the USA.  Period.  Tooooooo complicated.

Anyway, these are some of the business-end issues that have been consuming my time and resources while I try to establish the Mythos Machine as a going concern. The fact is, though, I have zero indication that the product I'm trying to develop will be accepted in the Market. I do know I've put in a huge amount of work on it, and I also know that I personally happen to really enjoy what I created and find it very useful for my games. But that doesn't mean anyone else will, right? So time will tell. And in the meantime, I'm committing myself to an enormously time consuming and expensive effort to get it out there. It may be a huge mistake. Probably is, frankly. The market is fickle, and competition is fierce. And in fact, the expense of doing so is just high enough that it may turn out that I can't afford to run the operation unless a sufficient number of people decide it's worth contributing money to. Thus far, no one other than my mom and my girlfriend have contributed a dime. Which is fine. It's my gamble to make. The point of my mentioning it at all is just to record what the process has been, and where my decision making has come down. I want to try to give the Mythos Machine the best shot possible, to find out if there's a market for it or not.

There's a good chance that what I created over the past 20 years (I started working on project this in 1997) will find a niche market of fans who think it's great. And if I have enough support from them then I think I can keep the project afloat financially. I hope so.

Anyway, that's where it's at. It's been a vastly interesting amazing even, learning process. I'm expecting to have all the pieces in place reasonably soon. The last piece being the Subscription Tax issue, which I'm still working on. What's gnawing at me is that I see other sites comparable to mine appear to have completely ignored the question. I find that puzzling as can be. Can you really afford to just ignore this stuff? ... I guess in the view of those who are doing it the answer is "Sure. Ignore it." but I feel that somehow this is probably such a terrible choice in the long run that I'm pretty sure I won't go that way. After all, I'm not in this to grab everyone's money real-fast and then run off to my underground Luxury-Fortress. I'm in this to provide a long term solution that helps gamesmasters create their own wondrous worlds and support them for decades and eons to come. So I'm thinking I need to set this up right, and not risk the business just because setting it up the right way was, well, kinda hard, and pretty expensive and took a long time.

And that's it for my report. I will post again on the solution for the SaaS State Taxes when I've worked that piece out.

Best wishes fellow Entrepreneurs! It's a hell of a ride, but the rewards are great if you can work it all out!  And remember... it's always darkest before the dawn!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Plot Map - Battle at the Church of Whitewode - Explaination

Spoiler Alert!

If you are one of my players you may not want to look at this until the end of the Campaign.

This is the current Plot Map for the Whitewode Campaign in my world of Elthos.

What is a Plot Map?

I'm glad you asked.  This is a technique that I've been experimenting with to provide myself with a visual queue card while I am Gamemastering.  It shows a great deal of information about the current state of the Campaign, including where the main Characters are in relation to one another, what paths they have taken, or may take, where the key places and events are, and the array of forces in the scene.  It also may show symbolic references that remind me which Elkron are in play, and what they may be trying to accomplish.  This one Plot Map acts as a snapshot of the game in it's current state.  Together the Plot Maps form a visual history of the Campaign, so that later I can use them to recall major events, characters and influences.  It's been extremely helpful for me while GMing, and also a pretty cool form of documentation on the Game Story.

The key to it is include as many of the major elements as possible in a small a space as I can manage.  This way, one sheet can be used to remind myself of important points during the play of the game.

To give an idea of how this works in practice, if you take a look at the lower right corner you'll see the Church of Whitewode (which is on fire) up on the ridge overlooking the town towards the West Gate.  There is a beam of moonlight hitting the Church steeple in which Hermel (H.) and his daughter Peaches (P.) are attempting to use the silver bell in the steeple to reflect the moon beam towards the blacks sphere of darkness atop the West Gate Citadel, in which the obsidian alter is located.  Nicholas Blair is attempting to cast a massive spell from atop the tower to thwart the Pech and Gnoll Armies situated on the marshes before the township.  Just outside the Church are Thorgrim (T.) and the Gnoll (Gn1) waging a fierce battle against one another (revenge), while below the Church are Reverend Russel (Rev R.) and Reverend Trask (Rev T.), each of whom are taking different routes.  Reverend Trask has taken the Treasure of the Lizard King and the escaped prisoners to the West Citadel, while Reverend Russel is attempting to climb the stairs to the Church to aid Hermel and Peaches in their task.  You will also see that the Gargoyle (Gg.) is on his way to also provide aid to our heroes, while the Gnoll's brother (Gn2) is simultaneously making his way towards Reverend Russel to kill him before he can aid anyone.  Just below the crescent moon you can see the Spire that is White Tower, near where Delvin is actually located with the 12 musical children whose rescue is the goal of the quest.

Ok that's the lower right hand corner.  You can see how glancing at the picture would be far easier for me during the game than peeling through my notes. Obviously this wouldn't be necessary were it not for the fact that the Whitewode Campaign is enormously complex.  It is the equivalent of a Soap Opera in RPG form.  But that's a topic for another post, why I decided to create the Campaign this way, how I approached it, and whether or not I think it's a successful method. Stay tuned for that post as well.  I will publish it after the completion of the Campaign.

In the meantime enjoy the Plot Map, and hopefully if you're also running a complex Campaign this concept of Plot Mapping the thing may be helpful to you.  Best wishes and happy gaming!

Ye Old Trolls of Elthos

So I've been Gamemastering my world of Elthos since 1978, and to be absolutely honest, until this most recent Whitewode Campaign, no one had yet encountered a troll.  Yup.  30+ years later, finally - a troll!

Now, I should say my trolls are not standard stock issue D&D trolls with the green skin and carrot noses. No way. I never could stand that kind of troll. I don't even know why, exactly, but my reaction to that concept for trolls has always been "Holy Yuck-I-Don't-Think-So!" They just didn't look like what I imagined "real" trolls to look like. Again - no idea why. But my vision of trolls must have been formed from some old fairy tale book I read as a child and have long forgotten. At any rate, the trolls of Elthos are large, heavy boned, and girded round with huge bellies and large round noses, long unkempt hair, and dress in peasant cloths, often with a skull cap made of a whole cow hide. They're big fellows, and are ambling, stupid, selfish, and a bit overly fond of very simple riddles.

"Why did the hobbit cross the road?", asked Bob Ruckbottom, the older of the two trolls, and therefore the smarter one. He knew the riddle after all.

"Oh, let me think on it, Bob," said Tom, his brother.

"Ok, you do that. If you get it, I'll give you my best ruck-sack", Bob added for good measure.

A while later, Tom answered as follows, "Cause he had no shoes?"

"Noooo," said Bob with a huge guffaw. "To get away!" he proclaimed with a uproarious laugh.

And so, that's just how trolls are in Elthos. Big lumbering and dumb as a sack of sand. That said, on the other hand, they're also have bones made of stone, and skin flecked with iron. They regenerate their wounds at an alarming speed, and if you don't burn them once their heads have been chopped off, then they'll grow back a new one and come hunt you down. They're really not very nice.

Now once in a long while, a troll or two will be spawned just a cut above the rest. Either smarter, or stronger, or quicker than your average lot. These trolls go on to gain fame among the troll-kin, and usually become heroes of their clans, one way or another.

Such a hero was Babayuma "Bob" Ruckbuottom. He knew his riddles he did. And so one day, after he had utterly smashed a local brigade of King Varin's troops at Old West Bridge, just outside of Whitewode before it had sunk under the ground (it was a cursed village, don't you know), the King stood forward on his chariot, and offered Bob the job of keeping the Toll at the Bridge. Why would King Varin do such a thing? Well, no one knows for sure, but historians think that there must have been several reasons for it. One, the thinking goes, was that Bob was a capable and frighting warrior, and so no one would dare to avoid the toll again. Another was that the King could tell by the riddles Bob would ask his knights before crushing them that Bob was not an ordinary troll, but one of those that had slightly more than half a brain. Thirdly, it is rumored that for some reason Bob decided at some point that he wanted to be a Knight - and this was something the King could offer him in exchange for his service. Finally, there are some who say that King Varin was a Wizard of no small skill who had the ability to overpower weaker minds and make them loyal subjects through the craft of his speech. Whatever the case, Bob accepted the offer to be the King's Troll, and was knighted on the spot, and because of this he took his post in a cave just below the West Gate Bridge, and from that time forth, collected the King's toll with a loyalty and ferocity that begger's the imagination. And from that time forth everyone paid the toll, and there were no more sneaks, and no more bum-rushes over the bridge, and in the end, Bob amassed a huge fortune in that cave of his. When people needed to go to Whitewode, they would pass over the bridge, and those who knew how things stood would put a tin piece in the stone bowl for each person or animal crossing the bridge. But those who asked what the "1" on the sign signified, Bob would lie, and say "One Gold!".  Few people had the courage to argue with Bob, and those who did didn't last long.

Also as time passed King Varin passed away, and the kingdom passed away and the lands fell fallow, and after the Ogre Wars the men who lived in the great valley of Glendale were killed off or chased away further to the south. In all that time the curse of Whitewode took it's toll on the town, and it sank slowly under the ground, until it merged completely within Grimdel's enormous cavern. Only a single hole at the top of the cavern showed through a beam of moonlight now and again. And there lives Bob the King's Troll in his cave below the bridge at West Gate. There's a sign there that reads "Toll: 1" which King Varin had made for him, and below it, a stone bowl carved out of the cliff face next to the cave's entrance. Over the years, Bob acquired a couple of guard dogs, which were also of trollish blood, to help him keep his treasure safe.

And so once every ten years, Bob would haul whatever toll was due the King up to the old White Tower at the top of the cliffs, and report to the King's Wizard there. And of course, Bob would keep the rest for his own maintenance. And thus, Bob's treasure was quite large. And the King's Toll treasure of the White Tower was also quite large, though that one was comprised of tin coins, while Bob's was made up of gold. It had been 800 years since King Varin knighted Bob, and so you can imagine that after all that time, two rather substantial treasures got built up, slowly but surely. And so there is Bob to this day, with his two troll-hounds, and living peacably enough for a troll under the West Gate Bridge. If you should happen to pass that way, just drop a tin piece in the bowl on your way across the bridge, and you'll have no trouble with Bob.

Naturally, my players declined to do so. They got in a fight with Bob. I was fairly certain, comparing Bob's mighty stats and regeneration to their capabilities, even though they were all veteran adventurers, that Bob and his dogs had the upper hand and would be likely to kill off half of them, if not all. BUT - Hermel was smarter than Bob. He created an illusion of a flower pot, in which was a Sun Flower. Now, these Sun Flowers grow magically in the cavern, and are cultivated by the fey who don't care much for trolls, and they have served to keep the trolls out for many long centuries. There's only a few such flowers growing in and around Doctor Sniloc's manor some distance through the cavern south of Whitewode. Having run into them there, Hermel understood their signifance, and when they encountered Bob, he created an illusion of one. And this was the one thing that could frighten Bob enough for him to retreat back into his cave.

Now some of you might ask, how could Bob have collected the toll in the daylight before Whitewode sank under the ground? Well, King Varin built a covering for the bridge so that Bob could attend to his business without having to come in contact with the sunlight. Eventually, that covering was torn asunder once the town sank, and became that very formidable wooden bridge-door which bob could use to close the bridge and bar the entrance to his cave ... just in case a dragon or somesuch thing might come some day. And it did. And Bob didn't mind. He was safe in his cave, barricaded in and unassailable in his little fortress with his two dogs, Fido, and Fifi.

And that, friends, is what trolls are like in Elthos.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mark Knights Review of Elthos

Following is the verbatim text of Mark Knight's Review of the Elthos RPG Mythos Machine. I am posting it here to preserve a copy in case the original is blown away by any sort of internet treachery in the future...  Without further ado... Mark Knights' Review (published in Sept 2015):

I replied to a post a few months ago now saying that I would love to help out beta testing a game that was unusual. It is a universal RPG but had a piece of software that had been developed with it that would help the GM and players by enhancing the game innately. The Beta was a demanding schedule, I started late and soon realised that there was no chance, with my schedule, to keep up with the needs of the Beta. The author (of the game and software – Mark Abrams) was also seeing this across many of the participants and so changed his tack on the beta and opened it up to an open Beta test so that he can get many testers, who will find those bugs at their own pace and the updates can go ahead. The game is Elthos Role Playing Game and the Software is known as the Elthos Mythos Machine.

Elthos RPG
The entire thing is in open Beta and as such you can sign on and register and grab a copy of the rules. I would suggest that you do this in an effort to help Mark Abrams thoroughly test the Mythos Machine – but more on that later. The current rule set is available for download once you register and log in at the portal for the game and software. The rules started at version one and quickly escalated to version 8 which is where it currently stands.

Elthos is designed to be a Universal RPG that the GM uses to apply to his own worlds. As an example the book takes a fantasy styled look throughout so that flavour can be added to the text and examples making them a little more interesting. There are also sketches of the world that is presented which are wonderful in breaking up the text as it is not really a standard fantasy setting. Creatures riding dragon flies and the like make it really nice evocative art in a sketched style and I really liked the intrusions it made on my reading.

The system uses a One Die System (ODS), that is a D6 system. Any resolution, as a standard rule, has you rolling a d6 against a target number determined by the task resolution table. For example, if I were to try and poke you in the eye, the Task Resolution Table looks at my “Poke in the Eye ” skill and your “Defence Skill” and gives a number that I need to roll on one die. It may also tell me that I am too good in the art of poking in the eye and automatically hit, or you are too good at defence and I don’t even have a chance. It is a simple mechanic and worked well here. This is an extensive discussion about it in the rule book that shows the depth that the author has gone to in considering it.

But of course the author knows that there are people out there that like rolling dice and so he has also opted to implement other systems that can be used as alternates from 2 to 4 dice resolution tables. This is a nice touch, but not entirely needed, although I am sure there are people out there that will make use of it. In reality the ODS has the same effect as multiplying the dice out and is the simplest option. That is one of the funny things about RPG’s though, the simplest is often not the option that gets chosen.

Some of the reading in this book is hard going. Dense text that are trying to explain and justify the use of the rules often left me having to reread a passage or two and on one occasion asking Mark what it actually meant. This is a minor criticism though as this problem does not often materialise while you read, just every now and again.

The entire book is an example of how this system can be used, the real value is the system itself. It talks about building a character and then gives the classes (it is a class based system) that any standard fantasy setting would give. Now, when I review a Universal system I always have a setting in my head that I ask myself “Can it do that?” Now in the case of this book that looks at traditional fantasy it would not fit but the discussion is always talking about how this is an example and how you can do the creation yourself and I can clearly see a way of me doing a post-apocalyptic sci-fi western that I was thinking of as I read it. It would take some work on my part, but if you are not prepared to do work you are probably not looking at a Universal system as a GM.

Also, throughout the text Mark keeps reminding that there is the Mythos Machine available to us on the web that will help us build and flavour the entire game. There are very few situations where this prompt is not mentioned. The Mythos Machine will solve our concerns and worries. So let us now turn our eye to the…

Mythos Machine
Normally when I do a review of an RPG or a piece of software I do one or the other. This is the exciting part of Elthos. It has an entire game support/campaign support system built right alongside it. It is rare these days to find this occurring. It is normally a third party creating an app that fits a system or a generic app that fits multiple systems. The truth about the Mythos Machine is that it fits seamlessly with the Elthos RPG. If you want to play the setting that is in the book itself there is very little to do. If you want to create your own world there is a little more to do but it is really made wondorously easy by this bit of software. And just between you and I, if you wanted to use the Mythos Machine to record a campaign that did not use Elthos as the base system, it would work.

Logging into the Mythos Machine I did not know what to expect. The website is dated in appearance and the system prompts look fairly basic at the start. I followed along several of the tutorial videos that Mark has done and loaded to YouTube. He has a beautiful skill based system ordered at the bottom of your main login page to see where you are up to in your videos and what you should watch before you get to x skill. These videos are well done and in the case of several of them they have been updated during the Beta.

There are two modes to the Mythos Machine, one as a player and one as the GM. I logged in as a player to start with and made a character. The system worked OK but the interface was a little clunky. Not having people to play a game with had me a little behind the Eight ball but I could see this was a useful tool as a player. Interacting with information from the world and recording the character, not to mention managing any formula that are required is a great thing for a player.

But the magic in this system is not in the player controls. The brilliance of this system comes when you nip over to become a GM and the entire Universe of possibilities are offered up to you to play with. That may sound like a stretch, and it probably is, but the modular system that has been built into the Mythos Machine to create your world and campaign is utterly breathtaking. Mark has truly thought through every portion of this and has shown a level of understanding about what GM’s play with (or want to play with) and intuitively added them.

The interface is still a little on the clunky side but this tends to be the truth of all database systems. I started playing about with this interface to make my post apocalyptic sci-fi western and I had to catch myself. I was having way too much fun and I was going down the rabbit hole of building a campaign that I loved and would never play. I called it Captivity and first I played with the base rules system changing it so the players only got on roll of their stats. I added up the world and then I went into skills and did some modification and then I was headed to armor when I realised that I was about to chew up a massive part of my life customising this system.

Look at all the configurable goodness, I am in love…

I can only say with the utmost confidence that this is a brilliant and easy to modify tool that does everything and more that the Elthos RPG says it can do. It allows you to play with practically everything at a granular level. You can map out complete campaign arcs, one off adventures, characters, NPC’s, the magic system or psionics or whatever you want to do. It allows you to quickly and easily build classes and introduce them and it all flows so seamlessly with each other.

I am a programmer, with a big degree to show it and I am stunned at the amount of work that is laying in this application. It will be a tool that inventive GM’s will quickly learn and love using but the true beauty of it may not be apparent to everyone. This is a shame because I have seen some apps created by teams of people in the past that are just nowhere as elegant as this system.

In Conclusion

This game and system are in Beta testing phase. It is an open Beta too so I think that if you can, join up. Help Mark refine this system to the best it can be. If you can keep him informed of what works well and what is a little clunky in the rules as well as the system then this game has a very bright future.

For me, as it stands at the moment Elthos the RPG is a nice little system that is well thought out and obviously a work that the author has thoroughly thought out and it is a labour of love. He discusses it being a little based in the 70’s and 80’s games but I really feel that it has a level of originality in it. For me it is a good system and a very workable system but with the way the book is written it may put off people who do not know where to start in running their own desired game setting. It possibly could also do with a dedicated GM section too.

The real winner here is the Mythos Machine. I can literally not think of a system that works so seamlessly together. It still needs a bit of work on interface and usability but it is so powerful that I am saying you should sign up to the Beta right now just for this! All the things you wonder how you will do works brilliantly through this application and allows you a marvelous amount of power in building your own game worlds. Get to, download the rules and log on to the Mythos Machine – you will not regret it!

Many thanks to Mark Knight for this absolutely lovely review!

Monday, April 03, 2017

Notes On OD&D - Part 34

Continuing on with the 5th Level Clerical "Spells"...

Men & Magic
  • p33 - Explanation of Clerical Spells - 5th Level
Dispell Evil: Similar to Dispell Magic spell, this allows a Cleric to dispell any evil sending or spell within 3" (90') radius. It functions immediately. Duration: 1 turn.

Ok, this seems fair enough, though I would have thought this would be a lower level spell (I always thought they should not be called spells, but miracles, but heck, that's probably just me). Maybe 4th. After all, the Cleric's main bag is, I thought, dealing with evil, and such. So to have this so high up in the spells hierarchy just feels a bit off. I could be wrong. And I'm sure it largely depends on how the game is played. And it may well be that in those days, when OD&D was first played, the whole concept of the game was so much more focused on the wargaming side that this may have been just fine, and no one thought twice about it. In other words, if you're playing a miniatures game on an 8'x12' table with armies and such you might not be thinking so much in terms of the "story" aspect at all. So this may have been totally find for how the game was payed in those days. Curious to hear if anyone has any experience of it from that era and might be able to comment on my conjecture.

At any rate, I give this 5 out of 5 Stars for usefulness.

Raise Dead: The Cleric simply points his finger, utters the incantation, and the dead person is raised. This spell works with men, elves, and dwarves only. For each level the Cleric has progressed beyond 8th, the time limit for the resurrection extends another four days. Thus, an 8th level Cleric raise a body dead up to four days, a 9th level Cleric and raise a body dead up to eight days, and so on. Naturally, if the character's Constitution was weak, the spell will not bring him back to life. In any event raised characters must spend two game weeks time recuperating from the ordeal.

Hmmm... ok the way this is phrased may be a little confusing. I think what it means that a 9th level cleric can raise a dead body if that person has been dead for up to 8 days. And as for the weak constitution, I'd rather that this was a little more specific. But I will take it that a "weak Constitution" means those below average, which on 3d6 is probably 9 or less.

The only other questionable aspect is that it can't be used to raise Hobbits. Really? I mean, common. Hobbits are nice guys. You should be able to raise them. :p

I rate this 5 out of 5 Stars for usefulness.

Commune: A spell which puts the Cleric in touch with the powers "above" and asks for help in the form of answers to three questions. Communing is allowed but once per week maximum; (referee's option as to making less frequent). Veracity and knowledge should be near total. Once per year a specially communing should be allowed wherein the Cleric can ask double the number of questions.

Hmmm... ok. Not crazy about this one. Not that it isn't useful, it probably is. But it feels too static. Three questions? Ok, I guess so. Not crazy about it, but I can see why they chose to do it this way. You don't want to leave this sort of thing open ended I guess. And besides, they did add the caveat that it's up to the GM so that helps. But my real problem with this is that it's such a game changer when it goes into effect. From my viewpoint as a GM I don't like it. I'd be forced to give away my best secrets to any player who achieves this power. Yuck. Not so great. From the Player point of view though? Yup Yup Yup - sign me the hell up! So ... meh. Problematic.

I rate this, however 5 Stars for usefulness.

Quest: This is similar to Geas, except that the character sent upon a Quest by the Cleric is not killed by failure to carry out the service. However, the Cleric may curse him with whatever he desires for failure, and the referee should decide if such a curse will take effect if the character ignores the Quest, basing the effectiveness of the curse on the phrasing of it and the alignment and actions of the character so cursed.

Too weebly. Not that great. I don't really see the big difference between the MU version and this one other than the "you die" aspect. I guess from a flavor perspective it sort of makes sense, kind of. Except, if you're a Cleric and the reason your version of Geas doesn't kill is because you're too much of a "good guy" for that, then what's the point of Cursing?! Oh I'm too good to kill you, but not too good to curse you! Mwahaha! I don't know. Something doesn't seem right about it to me.

I rate this 3 Stars for usefulness.

Insect Plague: By means of this spell the Cleric calls to him a vast cloud of insects and sends them to where he will, within range of the spell. They will obscure vision and drive creatures with less than three hit dice off in rout. The dimensions of the Insect Plague are 36 square inches. Duration: 1 game day. Range: 48" (1440'). (Note: the spell is only effective above ground.)

Ok! That's persuasive! It's a huge area, and I could see this as being incredibly useful under certain, and highly variable, circumstances.

I rate this 5 out of 5 Stars for usefulness.

Create Food: A spell with which the Cleric creates sustenance sufficient for a party of a dozen for one game day. The quantity doubles for every level above 8th the Cleric has attained.

Ok, not terrible, but this is another one that I would kind of think belongs at a lower level than 5th, as it seems out of synch with the power of the others at this level. But still, when you're hungry, you're hungry and this is definitely a nice to have.

I rate this 3 out of 5 Stars for usefulness.

Ok and that's the end of the list of Clerical Spells!

Overall, I rate Clerics as being damn kick-ass character class in OD&D on account of that they are both mystics and fighters, and so they pack a heck of a punch.

Note: There are Anti-Clerics (listed below) who have similar powers to Clerics. Those Clerical spells underlined on the table for Clerical Spells have a reverse effect, all others functioning as noted. The chief exception is the Raise Dead spell which becomes:

Finger of Death: Instead of Raising the Dead, this spell creates a "Death Ray" which will kill any creatures unless a saving throw is made (where applicable). Range: 12" (360') (A Cleric-Type may use this spell in a life-or-death situation, but misuse will immediately turn him into an Anti-Cleric.)

Anti-Clerics: Evil Acolyte, Evil Adept, Shaman, Evil Priest, Evil Curate, Evil Bishop, Evil Lama, Evil High Priest.

Ok that's it for tonight. We pick up next time with the last of the sections in Men & Magic, which has to do with Magical Research and Books of Spells. Till then, ciao! :)