Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Influences on Land's End and Jeff's 20 Questions

This is an old file of musings that I've cleaned up for posting. These are some of the things I reference and ponder when I'm writing up material for my Land's End game, and which provided the initial seeds of its creation.

The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall
This is the only Elder Scrolls game I ever played extensively until my roommate bought Skyrim. An unbelievably big wilderness; a completely optional main quest; huge randomly generated dungeons; a gonzo character-generator and a creepy soundtrack. I reinstalled this game a few weeks ago so that I could get some screen-captures for a forthcoming post about how much better it is than all subsequent Elder Scrolls games (with diagrams).
Surrounded by lava, fighting a demon... Classic.

Exile: Escape From The Pit
This game provided the seed of inspiration for the campaign. For various reasons, the characters have been exiled from the rigorous, oppressive, strictly Lawful empire where no variety is allowed. They arrive in the land of Exile, an underground cave kingdom and have all kinds of adventures against the Sliths, the cat-people called Nephilim and the demon overlord Grah-Hoth. Classic turn-based CRPG from 1995, this is almost as retro as it gets and you can find it here.

Arx Fatalis
This game was fun as hell, back in 2004 or so. You're just dropped bare-ass naked into a big underground world (megadungeon), annnnd go! It's got a cowardly goblin king, dumb trolls, all kinds of stuff. The vibe of this game was just inspiring. I wonder if my shitty laptop could run it?

Myth: The Fallen Lords
My previous thoughts on this game here. The soundtrack of this game slays, and the monsters are great. I think the undead are the best ever. This game exudes vibe from every pore, it's tough and unforgiving. Time to man up and charge them zombies!

All those blogs listed on the side of this page!
Obviously.

++++ TWENTY QUESTIONS FOR LAND'S END ++++
originally outlined here.

1 - What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
You're a priest of the 137 gods of the Empire, although you can just pick one if you want (and make it up, since I will never detail them all). It's state-mandated! Later it may be possible to convert to a different god.

2 - Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
The general stores in Land's End have a general selection of weapons/armor/gear, and a few more rare things can be bought from the travelling merchants that come through town.

3 - Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
You'd have to travel to the interior of the empire to get custom armor. The local blacksmith, if he's even good enough to do it, would charge an arm and a leg.

4 - Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
There aren't any wizards in Land's End (it's a shit town). The mightiest one beyond The Barrier... who knows?

5 - Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
In Land's End, it's likely the Guard Captain of the town, who is perhaps a Level 2 Fighter. In the wastes, the greatest human warrior that anyone's heard of is Mullerigern, a bandit king with a 1500 GP bounty on his head.

6 - Who is the richest person in the land?
The richest person in Land's End is the Innkeeper, Kiros.

7 - Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Father Harkwood at the church of the 137 gods in Land's End will heal you - for a small fee.

8 - Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, death, undeath?
Father Harkwood of the 137 gods will cure: disease, curses, small ability drains. It'll cost you though. A druid (maybe living out in the wilderness) could cure poison. Death, Undeath, polymorph, stoning, permanent level drain and other tough ailments might just be incurable.

9 - Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
Nope. Magic is rare and wizards don't congregate or share their secrets, unless they're working for the man (which you ain't).

10- Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
The church of land's end has an alchemist/sage living in the tower who can do a bit of research for the party, and sell them non-magical 'alchemical' potions at high prices.

11- Where can I hire mercenaries?
To go over the cliffs? You gotta be kidding!

12- Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Anywhere further inside the Empire, people start to frown on carrying weapons openly (what could you possibly need THAT for?), and magic-users are either ostracized or are co-opted by the state.

13- Which way to the nearest tavern?
The Crown and Thistle sits right in the centre of Land's End, across from the church.

14- What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
There aren't any that 'terrorize' the countryside, but if you kill a monster of legend (werewolf, dragon, hydra, giant ant, etc) and bring its pelt/head back to town, that could make you famous. Occasionally there are wolves on the plateau, but it's rare.

15- Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
Not yet.

16- How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
Maybe in another civilization distantly across the wastelands, that's never met the Empire.

17- Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
There are some nameless monster cults in the wilderness, if you're into frog-cannibalism.

18- What is there to eat around here?
Regular inland medieval stuff: Bread, stew, cows, root vegetables, boiled things, oatmeal, beer, etc.

19- Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
For one, there's the lost idol of the 137 gods that Father Harkwood will pay 250 GP for (there is a sign on the town notice board to this effect).

20- Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
Somewhere in the wilderness. You'll know it when you see it, unless it sees you first.






PS: Hey new Blogger interface?

Up yours new Blogger interface.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unleashed In The East

My home Pathfinder game is directly inspired by the Ars Ludi epic "West Marches" (the uninitiated may receive solid gold chronic truth here). Although at the time of its beginning, my home game only had 2 players and 1 drunk - far from the epic cast of a true West Marches game - I still wanted to explore a massive, dangerous and uncharted wilderness full of strange things, away from the safety of the city (Confession Time: I never liked city adventures. While you're talking to guys in a tavern to get information, I'm pulling the arm of a statue to open the hidden crypt. While you're explaining your antisocial activities to the city guards, I'm climbing into a 1000-foot pit from whence no one returns).

I knew we were playing Pathfinder, because I impulsively bought the book (this was before I really got my head around these retro things). I decided to go for broke and I let the guys play all kinds of different PC races, because adventurers are rare in this world and they're going to stand out anyway. Don't worry, I have a plan for those planetouched kids. It will be awesome.

The cast has at one point or another included:

Arrai Rivenwen - aasimar ranger, he changes colour and age with the seasons
Adrock - tiefling rogue, he has green hair and an ice touch (I rolled on the original Planescape tiefling table for these ones!)
Trigger McGillicuddy - half-elf wizard, always drunk (player and character)
Aercius - human cleric of the 137 Imperial Gods (played to the hilt by my visiting brother, as detailed here)
"Ratticus Finch" - half-man half-rat hybrid lab escapee alchemist (blurb about the Pathfinder Player's Guide to follow later)

The adventure began in a small town at the edge of a giant, bureaucratic empire where nothing fun or exciting or lucrative happens to adventurers. I called it Land's End, and to disguise my influences I placed it at the far eastern border of the empire. It's a one-church, one-inn, one-horse sort of town with a blacksmith shop, farmers selling vegetables and the occasional travelling merchant. A town of simple folk who smile sadly at the occasional kid with a crazy dream who passes through on his way to an obscure death.

From Land's End, explorers head east for half a day to The Barrier, a sheer cliff's edge which overlooks an uncharted land obscured by mist and clouds. Few have ever gone down, and even less have come back up - but for adventurers craving action and gold, it's the only game in town.

23 GM Questions a la Zak

GM QUESTIONNAIRE

From D&DwPS:


1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
Hmmm... you know, I cop most of my ideas from the comics I read. I think my favorite was those Cage Skeletons I posted at the start of this blog, but I was flipping through a 3.5 or Pathfinder bestiary (I don't remember which) and I saw that somebody already did them, it's called "Animated Object" I think.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
Two weekends back.

3. When was the last time you played?
Last weekend on Saturday.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.
Adventurers from across the universe(s) team up to fight the legendary heroes of old in a cross-dimensional tournament held in an ancient valhalla-esque heroes' hall, where the winners go on to fight an ancient fifth-element style evil planet of devourment.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Mostly flip through my notes, or stare at them in silence to make them feel awkward and hasten their decision-making.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
Usually whatever my players bring over.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
I find it about as taxing as band practise, so yes.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
Playing Star Wars last weekend, my wookiee Aargh! strapped on the bounty hunter's jetpack, swooped in between ten armed guards, grabbed our bounty and flew away. Aargh! made it back alive, barely, when the villain detonated a spore grenade in a failed escape attempt but we cashed in on that guy in the end.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
Well, 3/4 of my players take my somewhat serious setting and make it unserious. One of them takes my somewhat serious setting and takes it much more seriously than I do.

10. What do you do with goblins?
For my Pathfinder game I use Zak's different-coloured goblins (green, red, black and white) from an old D&DwPS post, and I added two more (yellow and blue) so I can roll a d6 whenever goblin encounters are called for. For the Arthurian game I'm working on, I'll do something different but I don't know what yet.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
I guess this poem.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
Trigger McGillicuddy, the drunken wizard, asking me if the Lizardmen are "partying".

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?
Labyrinth Lord, wherein I attempted to get my head around the treasure tables.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
I'm not really a connoisseur of such things like some folks I read, but probably Edward Burne-Jones and John William Waterhouse.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
Not yet, try as I might.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)
Ruins of Undermountain in middle school. Shit was crazy back then!

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
A room with a giant stereo system playing the soundtrack to the first Conan movie at all times. Also roman-style couches and perhaps a mini fridge.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
Pathfinder and Ninja Burger.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
Fairy tales, and old Hellblazer comics.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
One that will take the game & setting on its own terms, whatever those may be.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?
Lysergic acid.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?
Man, there is already a product for everything I can imagine, and many that have been imagined for me.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?
Nope, I keep it deep under my hat when I'm talking to normal people. I do have an excellent sounding board though - my old buddy 4th replaced me as DM back home, he's my gaming Oprah.

Follow up question, in her own words: why does your girlfriend/wife not play?
"I honestly have no idea what D&D is all about. Do you guys dress up and give silly voices to your characters or something?." Hmm, likely her very busy "real life" thing is a big factor.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nocturnal Supremacy

OK, so back having a job. Right now I'm working nights, and it looks like I'll have some free time so expect more fun posts to come along! In addition to my previously promised writings, I have some more fun stuff to go up as I brainstorm this Labyrinth Lord one-shot for the Friday group. Some good tricks & traps, ruminations on the setting and my newbie encounters with the retro rules. I'm also going to talk more about my home game and some of the hijinks that have happened recently. The actions of one Trigger McGillicuddy, drunk-ass wizard, deserve at least one post of their own.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Evil will always win. Because good is dumb."

Dark Helmet just hates paladins.
OK, I had this long, pissed-off and kind of boring rant written, but I deleted it and wrote this instead.

I've been playing Temple of Elemental Evil for PC recently and barring a few irritating bugs I'm having a great time with it. One of the dudes in my Friday night Warhammer Fantasy RP group recommended it to me, saying it was the best D&D computer game he'd ever played. I wouldn't go that far (I'm all about Planescape: Torment) but I'll give it 2nd place with confidence.

What initially bothered me was my Paladin character. I had a long rant written about the bizarre morality and 'paladin code' of the game, but what it boiled down to was this:

Anyone evil basically gets told to fuck off and I can't interact with them, but it's OK to kill them without a conversation. I thought it was odd that I can kick in the door and kill everyone I see with no 'Paladin Code' violation, but if I accept a quest from one Evil Temple leader to kill another Evil Temple leader, I'm now Fallen. It's not as if I was going to leave any of them alive anyway. I know, I know: it's in the Paladin code! But it didn't make much sense at the time.

This bugged me until yesterday when I was reading Chretien de Troyes and of course remembered that the Paladin class is rooted in chivalric legend. In the stories of Arthur's knights some of these idiosyncratic traits exist. Brutal battles are fought against evil, but nobody considers trickery, strategy, divide-and-conquer tactics or the like except in extreme cases. Siding with one evil man to destroy another is unheard of; a knight simply runs through the first evil man before moving on to the next.

This is combined with the traits most lacking in most D&D paladins: politeness & courtesy. Even the most evil knight is treated with mercy until he has proved several times over to be unrepentant, and finally might lose his head (in De Troyes' version, Meleagaunt duels with Lancelot three times and imprisons him by trickery before Lancelot will finish the job). Most villains are allowed to say their piece and argue with the knight before they decide to do battle. These traits don't combine well with a group of various roguish dungeoncrawlers looking over their shoulders for gelatinous cubes while scooping treasure into a sack, so the result (the D&D Paladin) is a fusion of differing genre expectations, history, myth and pragmatism that can stumble in practise.

Too cool to be a PC.
"I say you sooth, said the damosel, for ye were this day the best knight of the world, but who should say so now, he should be a liar, for there is now one better than ye, and well it is proved by the adventures of the sword whereto ye durst not set to your hand; and that is the change and leaving of your name. Wherefore I make unto you a remembrance, that ye shall not ween from henceforth that ye be the best knight of the world. As touching unto that, said Launcelot, I know well I was never the best. Yes, said the damosel, that were ye, and are yet, of any sinful man of the world."
-Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur

This reading and thinking on Paladins in the Arthurian canon gave me another idea. In any one knight's story, barring a few exceptions he is the best, strongest, toughest of all knights he meets in his travels. During Tristram's tale he beats all comers except Lancelot and when it's Lancelot's turn in the spotlight he can't lose. The stories are structured so the better knights come later in the saga and each can have his spotlight as the best while his story is told (Arthurian power creep!).

This fits in well with the harsh ability requirements for Paladinhood in 2nd edition D&D: Str 12, Con 9, Wis 13, Cha 17. Back in my 2nd ed days, I don't remember anyone playing a paladin over almost 10 years. Even with 4d6 drop the lowest and arrange as desired, what kind of fool frontliner puts a 17 into his *charisma*? One who wants a certain flavour of class, obviously, but no one I knew rolled rich enough stats to gamble survivability like that.

The Arthurian term for Paladin is "The Best Knight In The World," but it amounts to the same thing. A man endowed with strength, skill at arms, grace, beauty, chivalry, chastity, mercy, piety, all the virtues of knighthood. Only with his death or fall from grace can another knight assume Paladinhood.

In other words, there can only be one Paladin in the world at a time. Sir Lancelot is The Paladin for most of the Arthur stories, but his adulterious relationship with Guenevere causes his Fall, and opens the spot up to his perfect son Galahad (in the Malory version, Galahad is taken to heaven by Joseph of Arimathea before he can get old and lose his edge like Elvis). Lancelot can still beat most of the other knights, but he's just a very good Fighter from then on and everyone knows it. He fails to reach the Holy Grail and can't stop Mordred from tearing the Kingdom apart.

I don't know if this idea will fit into my Pathfinder game - the players get upset if they see something in the book and they can't have it. I like to indulge them in this, like a loving parent indulges their simpleminded child, so denying Paladins as unique in the setting won't work in that game.

However, I'm working on a fun one-shot for my Friday group which I hope to develop into an ongoing game - and there will definitely be only one Paladin at a time in this world.