Monday, January 19, 2015

More Fantasy Football

I was writing a NOD article today laying down some rules for pen-and-paper football, and decided to make a few sample teams for the article. I thought it would be fun to design the logos using the Coat of Arms Design Studio from Inkwell Ideas (highly recommended!). As I was working on it, I realized I could probably do fantasy versions of most of the teams in the NFL, and so ...

I think I was pretty close with most of them. I had to get creative with a few - a horn for the Vikings, a Pegasus for the Jets and a centaur for the Giants. I used a griffon for the Seahawks just for fun, and a few I had to just use a helm and the team colors. I think the Dolphins is my favorite.

Just a bit of fun this morning. I'm almost done writing the next hex crawl, the football article is about halfway finished, and then a few more articles and some art to commission and NOD 25 is ready to roll!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Into the Mountains of Chaos

The next hex crawl for NOD is set in the Klarkash Mountains, which divide the Venatia hex crawl from the lands of Nomo, Guelph and Irem (which probably doesn't mean much, so lets say the part of the world inspired by Greece, Rome and the Fertile Crescent).

What follows are some excerpts of the hex crawl - enjoy!

Ghae is a fading city-state of deep sea locathah. The city has the pattern of a starfish, with great towers at its six points and hundreds of domes holding homes, palaces, temples, armories, workshops and the like. The city was once home to over 15,000 locathah, but only 12,500 remain, as the mithral mines they once worked have been depleted.

The deep locathah resemble anglerfish, and though they are fearsome to look upon, they are not evil. The city’s autocrat, Phlaq, wears phosphorescent shell armor as a sign of his authority. He carries a mithral scepter that looks like it was made by surface elves, and it was – it was lost at some point by Vinrix, the missing Emperor of Nomo.

The army of Ghae is 1,000 strong. The locathah wear no armor. They carry spears and often ride mechanical dunkleosteus, powered by vril. These armored mounts are slowly dying, so they are now rarely used. The soldiers are poorly paid and only barely loyal. They have turned to banditry to supplement their incomes, driving some merchants away to the west, where they hope to find welcome in other deep sea cities.

A sea titan by the name of Glaudia is drowsing in the sun here, floating on his back in the sea, which remains placid around her. Three giant leeches have attached themselves to her and are supping on his ichor. The titan isn’t particularly bothered by this, but awakening her will throw her into a rage.

High in the mountains here there is a cave shrouded in magical darkness. Beyond the entrance, light works, and reveals a staircase stained with blood. The staircase leads down to a great cavern in which there is a bell composed of lead and engraved with images of fallen angels holding burning torches. When struck, the bell sends out blacklight (per the spell) in a 100-ft radius, strikes all within 60 feet with black lightning (also per the spell) and summons forth all monsters within 10 hexes to war in the name of unholy Chaos.

The walls of the river canyon here are studded with twelve spheres of force. Each one contains a rabid zombie, scratching at the sphere and trying to attack anything that comes within sight. Around their necks are long iron chains from which are suspended large iron keys. In the middle of the river, near the spheres, there is a small promontory that bears a great, iron door. The door is two feet thick and cannot be opened, for it is really a sort of elevator platform that lowers into the promontory when activated. The door/platform has twelve keyholes … so you can see where this is going.

If the spheres of force are deactivated, the zombies are released. When the zombies are released, they grow to giant size (the iron chains now fit their necks more snuggly) and attack.

GIANT ZOMBIE, Huge Undead: HD 8; AC 11; ATK 1 slam (2d6); MV 20; F8 R11 W9; AL Neutral (N); XP 400; Special—Move or attack, weapon resistance (blunt weapons).

If the platform is activated, it lowers itself slowly at first, and then quite quickly, about 300 feet into the earth. A door at the bottom of this shaft opens into the underworld.

A stone circle is hidden in the mountains here, on a meadow of daisies and purple cone flowers. The stones are jagged and white, and bear deep claw marks that form weird patterns. The circle has a diameter of 60 feet.

Under a full moon, the stones glow in the moonlight. The ground within the circle becomes first spongy and then ethereal, dropping people into a cavern below (20 ft. fall). Within this cavern, dimly lit by the moonlight filtering through the ethereal ground, there is a fountain of healing waters surrounded by a dozen statues of skull-faced nymphs. The healing bath is permitted only to Chaotic (Evil) creatures; others are attacked by silver rays from the eyes of the statues that curse them (per the bestow curse) spell.

More to come ...

Monday, January 5, 2015

What I Did Over My Christmas Vacation

Back to work today (real work, where I get a paycheck), and I thought I'd get the first post of the new year knocked out before I have to get down to business.

What did I do on my Christmas vacation this year?

But it didn't stop there. Let's take a trip down memory lane ...

When I was but a young slip of a boy, I was obsessed with three things: Star Wars, World War Two, and Football. I was the original football geek - knew all the stats, knew the team histories, watched the games (rooted for the Steelers first and then the Raiders - I was a Las Vegas kid, so I didn't have a home team to root for), etc.

While I had never heard of D&D, I was already a gamer at heart. One summer, I invented my own football league. Lots of teams organized into conferences and divisions. Teams like the Las Vegas Aces, Billings Mountaineers, New Jersey Battleships (there's my WW2 obsession leaking through), Jacksonville Oranges, Birmingham Yellowhammers, Canton Bulldogs (I was retro before retro was cool), Georgia Peaches and my personal favorite, the Ottumwa Hogs (my family hails from Ottumwa, IA, thus the placement of a professional team in such a small market).

I designed helmets and team colors, and then I invented a very simple way to play games between them using a dice (and when I say dice, I mean d6 - back in those days, that was just a plain old dice, no extra description required). For each quarter of the game, I rolled the dice for each team to see how many points they scored. I don't remember the exact scheme now, but I'm sure it went something like this:

1 = 0 points
2 = 3 points
3 = 6 points
4 = 7 points
5 = 10 points
6 = 14 points

For example: Ottumwa Hogs vs. Las Vegas Aces

I would roll those dice, total up the scores, and have a winner. Then I recorded the wins and losses and ties, and eventually had them in playoffs and a championship game. I kept it all in a notebook, figuring out the schedules, etc. On a long road trip back to Iowa, it kept me occupied and entertained as only a geek can be entertained by rolling dice.

Flash forward to 2015.

My brother-in-law gets me that electronic football game. I start playing with it, and realize quickly that all those game scores I'm generating are going to waste. What if I resurrected those old pretend football teams, plus a few others, and made a sort of tournament. Yeah. A tournament.

Four conferences - North, South, East and West. Eight teams per conference, so a round of games, then conference playoffs, then conference championship, then league playoffs and league championship.

And I can organize the teams in Excel, with team logos and colors.

Oooh - what if I make a random table for determining off-season stuff, like teams folding or moving to new cities or picking up or losing star players.

Yeah - star players. They can give bonus offense and defense rolls that change the final score of the electronic games.

AND - I can grab demographics on the different MSA's in the US (metropolitan statistical areas) and the different stadiums, and come up with a random way to determine attendance and TV viewership and generate money earned for each team. Then they could spend money to build the teams even more.

Now I'm trying to figure out how to put together a pen & paper version of this, a little more in depth.

So, that's what I did with my Christmas vacation, along with writing about half the next issue of NOD (which will cover the Klarkash Mountains) and finishing up the first draft of GRIT & VIGOR.

Oh, and the Ottumwa Hogs are playing for the North Conference championship, against either the throwback Browns (with their classic Brownie logo) or the Minneapolis Marines.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Holy Moses, It's a New Class!

Yes, a new class ... probably the last new class of 2014 ... based on Moses, that fellow who parted the Red Sea and held the Ten Commandments.

At least, it's based a little on Moses, and a little on other old time prophets. In essence, it's a non-warrior cleric with more flexibility in terms of spells, but fewer spells to choose from.

In a moment, the class. First, a couple words from our sponsor (which happens to be me)


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NOD 24

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Now, back to our program!


The prophet is a cleric who goes way back … all the way to Moses in fact. The prophet is destined to be a religious leader of a people, if he or she can live long enough. Starting out in life, they are touched by a deity and tasked with leading their chosen people, or converting their chosen people, to their worship. They must eventually lead these people into the wilderness to found a new kingdom for them. The deity in question should be one that is, as yet, minor in stature, or a major deity that has largely been forgotten by his or her chosen people.

Obviously, this class is based on Moses. I won’t go over the story of Moses – it’s easy enough to find – but suffice to say he was a prince who discovered his true heritage and was chosen by God to lead his people through the Wilderness to the Promised Land. As an emissary for God on Earth, he could perform miracles, and as a man that was raised in a royal house, he had a good deal of non-spiritual leadership ability.

The prophet class has an innate ability to commune with the divine, a spell list based on the miracles attributed to Moses, other Biblical prophets and Christian saints. You’ll notice quite a bit of overlap with the normal cleric’s spell list. The prophet begins life as an aristocrat, and that means he has some capacity for fighting and leading people. His leadership abilities will continue to improve as he gains levels, though his fighting ability will improve more slowly. Prophets are not meant to be front-line warriors. A prophet’s spellcasting ability is in some ways more limited than a cleric’s, and in others superior.

Restrictions: Wisdom 13+, Charisma 9+, alignment must be LG, LN or LE

Hit Dice: d8 at first level, d6 at each level afterwards

Skills: Decipher Codes, Find Secret Doors

Weapons: Any*

Armor: Any*

Prophets are trained in the use of all arms and armor, but using arms and armor not allowed to a magic-user represents a lack of faith in their deity, and imposes a spell failure chance on them (cumulative):

Non-permissible light weapon +5%
Non-permissible medium weapon +10%
Non-permissible heavy weapon +15%
Non-permissible light armor +10%
Non-permissible medium armor +20%
Non-permissible heavy armor +30%

Spell failure chance should be rolled when the prophet beseeches her deity for a miracle. If the spell fails, the deity chooses to ignore her.

A prophet does not technically cast spells. Rather, he asks for miracles. A prophet is allowed a limited number of miracles of each miracle level per day. He does not need to memorize or prepare miracles, as long as he has access to a level of miracles, he can ask for any of them. The prophets’ miracles are listed at the end of this article.

Besides adventuring to earn money and power, a prophet’s most important job is to amass followers. To this end, a prophet must preach before multitudes, attempting to either convert them to his new faith, or reawaken them to an old faith. Treat conversion as a Charisma task in which the prophet is skilled.

The prophet can attempt to groups of 0 to 1 HD creatures, or individuals with more than 1 hit dice. With groups, the prophet makes a Charisma task check and, if successful, converts a number of followers equal to his 1d4 plus his level. Difficulties include differences in ethical alignment (law – neutral – chaos) and moral alignment (good – neutral – evil), or the people being strongly dedicated to another faith. The same basic process is used for individuals, with an additional penalty equal to the each level the target is higher than the prophet.

When 0 or 1 hit dice individuals join the prophet’s cult, you might need to determine what they are:

There is a 1 in 6 chance per person that they are wholly dedicated to their new faith, and need never check their morale. Others, however, may lose faith in the face of hardships (as determined by the TK). When this happens, the prophet must make a new conversion task check for each individual. If he fails, they decide to return to their homes and their old way of life.

A prophet must take care of his followers. He must provide food and water for them, protect them, provide some manner of shelter (tents at a minimum), and heal them when they are wounded or sick.

For one battle per day, the prophet can grant a benefice to his warriors in battle. As the prophet’s level increases, he gains additional benefices he can grant. Each benefice can be granted to one battle per day, and only one benefice can be granted per battle.

At 6th level, one of the prophet’s existing followers can become his acolyte. The prophet’s acolyte becomes a lesser divine servant of the prophet’s deity, gaining abilities as the prophet gains abilities.

A prophet with fewer than 10 followers by 6th level must perform a quest for his deity or lose his ability to request miracles. Likewise a prophet with fewer than 25 followers at 7th level, fewer than 50 followers at 8th level, and fewer than 100 followers at 9th level and each level beyond 9th.

A prophet that is killed might enjoy an apotheosis upon death. There is a 5% chance per level of the prophet. When an apotheosis occurs, the prophet transforms into an outsider of similar alignment with roughly as many Hit Dice as the prophet +1. In this form, the prophet remains in the material plane for one minute per level. Thereafter, he is called to his home plane and disappears forever unless resurrected. If resurrected, the prophet returns in his original body, not as an outsider.

1. Aid
2. Bless
3. Comprehend Languages
4. Control Light
5. Cure Light Wounds
6. Multiply Food and Water
7. Protection from Evil
8. Summon Nature’s Ally I
9. Sustenance
10. Turn Undead

1. Augury
2. Buoyancy
3. Calm Emotions
4. Consecrate
5. Cure Moderate Wounds
6. Detect Thoughts (ESP)
7. Gentle Repose
8. Levitate
9. Remove Paralysis
10. Speak with Animals
11. Summon Nature’s Ally II
12. Summon Swarm

1. Cause Disease
2. Create Food and Water
3. Cure Blindness/Deafness
4. Cure Disease
5. Cure Serious Wounds
6. Fly
7. Hold Person
8. Remove Curse
9. Summon Nature’s Ally III
10. Tongues
11. Water Walk

1. Blight
2. Charm Monster
3. Control Water
4. Cure Critical Wounds
5. Divination
6. Flame Strike
7. Holy Smite
8. Restoration
9. Sticks to Snakes

1. Awaken
2. Bilocation
3. Commune
4. Contact Other Plane
5. Healing Circle
6. Hold Monster
7. Insect Plague
8. Raise Dead

1. Banishment
2. Geas
3. Move Earth
4. Wind Walk

1. Control Weather
2. Create Clay Golem
3. Transmute Matter

1. Earthquake
2. Holy Aura

1. Astral Projection


Level: 5
Range: Personal
Duration: 1 minute

For one minute, the prophet can be in two places at once. Each version of the prophet can carry out movement and actions as normal. The second version can appear within 1 mile per prophet level of the first. When the second version disappears, any damage or other effects he sustained, or any items he took possession of, return to the first version.

Level: 2
Range: Close (30 ft.)
Duration: 1 minute

One object within 30 feet designated by the caster becomes buoyant in water, and floats to the surface.

Level: 7
Range: Touch
Duration: 10 minutes per level

By fashioning a roughly human-sized and shaped object out of clay and inscribing a magic sigil on its head, the prophet can cause it to become a clay golem for 10 minutes per prophet level.

Level: 1
Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

This miracle takes existing food and water and multiplies, creating one extra portion per prophet level.

Level: 1
Range: Personal
Duration: Instantaneous

The prophet can go without food, drink and sleep for one day, but must sacrifice one point of constitution to do so. This constitution point cannot be healed while any casting of this spell is in effect. A prophet could, therefore, use sustenance for seven days straight, but would be without seven points of constitution on the seventh day, and would suffer the normal effects of a lower constitution. Constitution points sacrificed for this spell return at the rate of one per day of rest.

Level: 7
Range: Touch
Duration: 24 hours

The prophet can transmute matter from one form to another, thus lead to gold or steel to adamantine. The effect lasts for 24 hours. At the end of this time, the object must pass an item saving throw (as its original matter) or disintegrate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rankin-Bass is My Dungeon Master

A party of misfits
If you ever spent time as an American kid in the 1970's or 1980's, you surely are aware of Rankin-Bass holiday specials. And back then, they were special. No VCR's, DVD's or internet, so you had once chance each year to see Rudolph, and if you weren't home, you didn't see it! Egad!

R-B did more than just Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964 though. In Christmas specials alone, they produced The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970, my favorite), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975), Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976), The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976), Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977), Jack Frost (1979), Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979), Pinocchio's Christmas (1980), The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold (1981), and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985).

So many holiday specials ... and thus so much material to mine for a little RPG nonsense. So, in the spirit of Mother Goose is my Dungeon Master ...

Races and Classes

First and foremost, we don't have adventurers in Rankin-Bass D&D. We have "misfits". Characters in this game are weirdos who don't quite fit in, and thus leave Santa's Castle or the Island of Misfit Toys to do some adventuring! Silver and Gold!

I'll be your narrator for this adventure
Moreover, the DM isn't a DM. He or she is the narrator, and they have to do the whole game impersonating an old celebrity. Something like The Caves of Christmas Chaos narrated by Sean Connery.

Humans have to be included as a playable race because of Yukon Cornelius. Other options could be elves (shorter than the traditional D&D elves) and reindeer (definitely a candidate for "race as class"). How about toys? Winter sprites? Lots of options there.

Classes - prospector, knight, winter warlock, dentist? Dentist!? Heck, you could even just stick with the old fighter, cleric, thief, magic-user standbys. A 3rd level elf magic-user, a 5th level reindeer fighter, a 2nd level dolly thief. How can you beat that?

Clerics need divine patrons, and R-B gives you Father Time, Mother Nature, Father Winter and of course Old Saint Nick himself.


Only high-level misfits better tangle with this character
The bumble, King Moonracer is a shedu, giant vultures, town guards, elemental misers and their miserlings (mephits fit the bill very nicely for these guys), keh-nights (mechanical knights from Jack Frost) - many options here. Rankin-Bass adventures seem to be more centered around big villains with a collection of minions around them. That villain had better be threatening Christmas or New Years, too, or what's the point?

Adventure Sites

You're just loaded here. The North Pole, with Santa's Castle and the reindeer caves and Yukon's peppermint mine is a good home base. Burrow heavily from Candy Land and get a candy cane forest and gumdrop mountains. The Island of Misfit Toys is nearby, with its Shedu ruler King Moonracer. The weird Sea of Time that shows up in Rudolph's Shiny New Year could and should be the site of a mega-campaign all on its own. Seriously - if you haven't watched it, watch it. Great imagination fuel. You can go further afield with the Holy Land, Sombertown (apparently somewhere in Central Europe), the Russian Steppe and its Miserable Mountain, Southtown, etc.

The Game

It's Christmas Eve, and your friends are over. Pull out Basic D&D or one of its clones, pick a place to adventure, make up a villain or bring back Burgermeister Meisterburger or Kubla Kraus, figure out how they're trying to screw up the holidays and then roll up some elven dentists and human knights and jack-in-the-box whatevers and get to adventuring.

Oh, and don't forget to put a little of that goodwill towards men in your hearts. Share your +1 short sword. Don't be stingy with the healing potions. Give a little love, and get a little love back. It is Christmas, after all.

And no pouting and shouting if your character dies. Santa's got his eye on you!

Note - All images are the property of their copyright owners. No intended infringement in this post - just a bit of holiday fun.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Phoenix (New Class)

This class originally came about because I was working on some class ideas inspired by the classic elementals – not in terms of “guy who uses fire”, but rather “class inspired by fire’s representation in folklore and mythology".

Speaking of fire, this is what I came up with:


Some humanoids are born with an especially powerful spark of life. These are warrior souls, caught up in the great circle of life. Phoenixes have souls that never stop. When a phoenix dies, he or she immediately reincarnates as a new creature with the same memories and its personality mostly intact. The phoenix can do this many times, though each time stresses their constitution to the max, and each time a phoenix dies may be their last. Of course, it isn’t really the end of the phoenix’s soul – it merely transmigrates elsewhere in the cosmos (i.e. time for the player to roll up a new character) and fights on!

ARMOR – Any armor, including shields

WEAPONS – Any weapon


The key ability of a phoenix is his ability to reincarnate upon death, per the druid spell of the same name. When a phoenix is reduced to 0 hit points, its body immediately bursts into a 10-ft. radius of fire which deals 1d6 points of damage per four levels of the phoenix. The phoenix has a chance to direct this flame at a single target; if they can pass a Will saving throw they can direct the fire up to a range of 10 feet per four levels at a single target, who suffers all the damage (Reflex save to halve damage).

Once the fireworks are over, the phoenix emerges from the fire and smoke in a new body rolled randomly on the table below.

01. Aasimar
02. Azer
03. Blink Dog
04-07. Bugbear
08. Centaur
09. Crabman
10. Doppelganger
11-13. Dromite
14-19. Dwarf (10% chance of duergar)
20-25. Elf (10% chance of drow)
26-29. Gnoll
30-35. Gnome (10% chance of svirfneblin)
36-39. Goblin (10% chance of blue)
40. Grimlock
41-46. Half-elf
47-52. Half-orc
53. Harpy
54. Hengeyokai
55-58. Hobgoblin
59-64. Human
65. Janni
66-67. Juggernaut
68-71. Kobold
72-76. Lizard man
77. Minotaur
78-82. Neanderthal
83-85. Notac-Ichat (see NOD Companion)
86. Ogre
87-90. Orc
91. Satyr
92-93. Tiefling
94. Troglodyte
95. Unbodied
96-97. Utu (see NOD Companion)
98-00. Xeph

Roll randomly for the gender of the new body.

The phoenix gains all the abilities inherent to his new body (though not equipment, like a satyr’s pipes), but retains his normal hit points (adjusted for losing a level – see below), saving throws, attack bonus, ability scores and ability to speak. The phoenix personality remains largely the same, but is nudged a bit in the direction of its new form. If the phoenix has half or less of the hit dice of his new form, his new form is reduced in size by one size category.

The transformation is not without cost. The phoenix loses one level, and his experience points are reduced to the minimum level for his new level. A first level phoenix can reincarnate. His level remains at first, and his XP are reduced to 0. The phoenix must also pass a Fortitude saving throw or lose 1d3 points of constitution, permanently.

Once the transformation is complete, the phoenix must adjust to their new body. Each round, the phoenix must attempt a Will save. Once they succeed, they gain control over their faculties and can act normally. Until then, they are stunned.

A third level phoenix gains a limited form of regeneration. His natural healing is doubled (i.e. 2 hit points per level per night of rest), and he enjoys a +2 bonus to save vs. poison and disease.

A sixth level phoenix gains access to his soul’s memories. By meditating for one hour, the phoenix gains the use of one feat per three levels (i.e. two feats at sixth level, three a ninth, etc.). The phoenix can only access memories in this way once per day.

A ninth level phoenix can build a fortress-temple dedicated to the Phoenix. The phoenix attracts a body of 1d12+9 men-at-arms, heavy infantry, to serve as his personal bodyguard. In addition, a young 1st level phoenix seeks him out as a master (likely a sidekick from a former life).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Saving Some Gold Pieces (and a Spell)

Boys and girls, if you've been waiting to buy some of my print products, you may be in luck. Lulu is running a sale through November 27th ..

And on November 27th, I'm going to throw in some markdowns of my own for the holiday season. You'll find the link to my storefront on the side over there.

Don't forget, if you buy a hard cover book, I'll send you a free PDF of that book.
And now, to keep this post from being nothing but a commercial, I will make up a magic spell ...

Wind Tunnel
Level: Cleric 5, Druid 4, Magic-User 5
Range: Centered on caster
Duration: 1 minute

This spell creates a tunnel of powerful winds extending 10 feet per level ahead and behind the spellcaster. The tunnel is large enough for the spellcaster to walk through normally, though it obviously cannot be larger than the chamber or passage which the spellcaster currently occupies. Missile weapons, gases and breath weapons are deflected by the wind tunnel. Creatures outside the tunnel trying to force their way through the tunnel suffer the effects of entering a huge air elemental's whirlwind. The caster can decide if creatures grabbed by the wind tunnel are carried forward or backward and then deposited on the ground, prone, where the tunnel ends.If the tunnel is not created on solid ground, the spellcaster's comrades (though not the spellcaster, on whom the spell is centered) might fall into the winds themselves (in other words, it cannot be used to create a bridge across a chasm unless the spellcaster's comrades want to ride the winds across).

(Essentially, this is a variation on, and enhancement of the wind wall spell).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Undead, Yes ... But What Else Can We Turn?

Now imagine the cross is a pole, and she's a chasm. Image found HERE.
The title is making me think of the "Will It Blend?" videos.

At its heart, an RPG (or really any game) is just a collection of mechanics hiding underneath a layer of fluff. In an old school world, simplicity and, to some degree, minimalism is important - that means getting as much mileage as possible from the rules you have, so that you can avoid creating new rules. One rule mechanic that doesn’t get used enough, I think, is the Turn Undead table.Well ... let me rephrase that. It gets used all the time when people are turning undead, but the rule concept itself could probably be used to do more than just turn undead.

What follows are a few ideas for how you can tweak the Turn Undead table.

1. Alternate Targets

I've used the basic concept of "turning" in my games and unhinged it from the undead. The beastmaster class I wrote, for example, can turn animals. I meant it as a means of representing Tarzan's ability to cow animals and send them packing without having to necessarily fight them. In Grit & Vigor, I played with the idea of letting the dreadnought (a sort of big, scary guy archetype ... think Mr. T) use a table like that to frighten low-level NPCs, or at least stun them into inaction. I'm picturing Mr. T walking into a room and glaring at the thugs while he and the A-Team walk through unscathed, nobody daring to mess with them.

What else can you turn?

Different alignments - perhaps a wretched villainous NPC can force good creatures away through a sort of self-righteous repulsion. Maybe a chaotic troublemaker has the ability to turn authorities, though in this case it would represent the troublemaker avoiding their notice rather than frightening them away.

Different creatures - if the beastmaster can turn animals, maybe a dragon slayer can attempt to turn dragons (probably only succeeding on the little ones). What about turning reptiles, or turning elementals, or turning specific creature types as a lesser special ability?

2. Alternate Effects

I already hit on this above, in the chaotic troublemaker using "turn undead" to avoid the notice of lawful creatures. You could also replace turn/destroy (and rebuke/command) with ...

Annoy/enrage (a jester class might use this)

Charm/control (or dominate, great for a succubus class)

Stun/confuse (a riddlemaster? Kirk dealing with computers?)


Maybe a swashbuckler can "turn blades" as a way to represent a lone swordsman confronted with a multitude of minor combatants. One swipe of his blade, and a random number of lesser swordsmen are "parried/disarmed".

I'm sure there are many other possible variations. Just think in terms of partial success/complete success, pick a class of targets, and you're done.

3. Alternate Function

The Elementalist class I wrote used a variation on the turn undead chart to cast spells. For the elementalist, the idea was that the magician was controlling elemental spirits and forcing them to create the magic effects on his behalf, so a turn undead table made sense.

You could further twist the Turn Undead table concept to entertain crowds, convert heathens or solve conundrums. How about turning spells, using the Turn Undead mechanic as a counterspell mechanic.

In fact, the Turn Undead table could probably serve as a general task resolution mechanic - rate the difficulty of a task from 1 to 10 (or skeleton to vampire - "Gee Bob, that chasm's a real vampire - are you sure you want to try to jump it?) and roll the dice.

Just a few ideas for getting the most out of your chosen ruleset.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Unhinging Clerics from Alignment

A Chaotic cardinal for a Lawful church? Read on ...
Since the beginning of the game, clerics (and anti-clerics and druids) have largely been defined by their alignment. In the context of the early game, this made sense. Clerics were based on a combination of Van Helsing the vampire hunter and the religious knights of the crusades. That clerics must be Lawful was logical when you considered that they were based on adherents of a moral religion.

Note - I'm not going to get in a discussion here about the morality of the medieval Christian church. What I mean to convey is the idea that while Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that God created the universe and has some measure of control over nature (i.e. he can control the weather and such), they put their focus on his code of rules (thou shall not kill, etc.). Clerics of God, therefore, should be defined by their alignment.

Almost as soon as the game was written, though, it started to change. Clerics stopped being tied to an implicit Medieval Christianity and instead were tied to polytheistic deities, most of them just anthropomorphized forces of nature. Rather than the pseudo-Templars and Hospitalers that seem to have been intended under the original rules, we got clerics of Thor and Loki. Since Thor was Chaotic Good (if my memory of the Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore book), his clerics needed to be Chaotic Good as well, which meant they needed to be "crusaders" for enlightened freedom. The Thor of mythology, however, did not seem particularly concerned with moral concepts. He was a personification of thunder and lightning, and, if anything, a ready and eager foe of the giants (i.e. natural calamities). It should have made more sense to use druids as the priests of all the nature deities, but they became saddled with the concept of True Neutrality. Ultimately, several unrelated systems were mashed together to make something that was mostly fun, but also didn't make much sense.

How about a different concept for clerics? One that keep the basic rules in place (and hopefully the fun), but changes with the whys and wherefores and takes the focus for clerics away from alignment, and puts it back on casting spells in armor and pounding heads with maces.

Clerics, like magic-users, are spellcasters. The universe they inhabit has physical laws that can be broken with magic spells. In other words, the supernatural in thus universe is natural - it's just a nature with processes that are beyond most mortals. The universe also has gods, goddesses and other divine beings. Maybe they created the universe, maybe they just have a secret knowledge of how it works. Either way, clerics join their cults and learn how to perform rituals that can alter the fabric of reality in ways the gods and goddesses are willing to allow.

Think of the universe as the internet, and clerics as people who have been given passwords to systems by the owners/creators of those systems, as a bank gives a customer a password that allows the customer to access her account information and perform other allowed functions. Because clerics are given this access in exchange for performing the necessary rituals and living by the rules of their temple or order or brotherhood, they have more time to spend on learning to fight than magic-users.

Magic-users are the hackers of the universe. They alter the fabric of reality without anyone's permission, and it's not easy. They have to learn the code of the gods and hijack it. This forces them to spend all their time figuring out how to get things done, and gives them little time left over for learning to fight. It also allows them a much wider array of powers than the clerics (though they still haven't figured out how to hack into the healing spells).

Clerics in this scheme are not champions of an alignment, but champions of their cult/church/temple/brotherhood/etc. They represent their little faction in the very dangerous fantasy worlds in which they live, just as fighters serve kings and thieves serve their guilds. The name of the game is survival and power. In this scheme we do not need to tie the god of thunder to a particular alignment. He has a cult of followers whose existence allows him to play games in the cosmos (think of the scene in Jason and the Argonauts with the gods moving mortals around like chess pieces) or who just brag about how awesome he is. In return for their service he lets them alter reality on his terms. Within this cult, there can be clerics of any alignment, so long as they advance his agenda. In fact, the god of thunder might not even pay much attention to the cult. Maybe he gave his "passwords" to somebody long ago, and they passed the knowledge down to those who would serve them loyally.

Alignments in this sort of universe are not warring cosmic factions (a rather heady concept when you consider that the game is mostly made up of swashbuckling adventures and puzzle solving in a quest for money and experience/power), but rather the personal codes if men and women that determine how they interact with the world.

Clerics of Thor can be lawful, neutral or chaotic. The lawful clerics like to stick up for the little guy, the neutrals serve their order loyally to stay in good with their masters, and the chaotics try to get away with as much as possible without being expelled. This would endow these invented religious organizations a bit more color and intrigue. The lawfuls and chaotics within the cult don't quite trust each other, and each works to control the cult because they fear the other faction, but they aren't necessarily at each others throats all the time. The lawful heads of the cult might even understand that the chaotic clerics have their value in the organization, doing things they might shy away from, but which are necessary to advance the cult's goals in the world.

A deity that does represent or espouse a moral or immoral concept might, of course, restrict his or her clerics to a particular alignment. A deity of charity would want his clerics to be charitable - this would make chaotic clerics a bit tricky. Likewise, a god of trickery would want his clerics to be tricky - this might not work well for lawful sorts. Then again, consider Cardinal Richelieu - a member in good-standing of an ostensibly lawful church, and a terrible villain if most accounts are to be believed.

I guess this is a conception of alignment and clerics that would only fit in well in a Robert E Howard-style fantasy world, where the name of the game is power. It certainly wouldn't be to every player's taste, but it should please some players or at least prove entertaining for a while to veteran players. At a minimum, it could free clerics in the game from being forced into the role of do-gooder or do-badder, and instead make them more enjoyable to play.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Campaign Idea - After the Fall of Troy

It's the end of the late Bronze Age world, and I feel fine

If D&D represents a fantasy post-apocalyptic world, it makes sense to look for ancient fallen civilizations to use as inspirations for campaigns. What better than Troy?


A silver piece from Troy
Helen was a drop dead gorgeous (and a demigoddess, the daughter of Zeus), apparently, and Paris, prince of Troy, was smitten. So smitten, in fact, that he convinced her to run away with him to Troy where they would live happily ever after.

Well, not so fast. Apparently, Helen's husband, Menelaus, the King Sparta (those happy-go-lucky fellows) was none too happy about this situation. More importantly, he had managed to extract an oath from all her old suitors (also kings and lords) when he married her. They swore that they would lend him military aid if anyone tried to steal her away as a way to ensure that none of the other great Greeks would try kidnapping her. Menelaus rallies the Greeks and off they go to lay siege to Troy for a really long time. The gods get involved here and there, and ultimately Troy falls due to the trickery of Odysseus more than the rage of Achilles. The Greeks go too far, of course, and sack the temples and are visited with many troubles.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Age of Heroes, the days when the great heroes of Greek mythology trod the earth and the gods and goddesses took a very active interest in the world, moving people around like pawns in a great game only they understood.


Eventually, the actual existence of Troy was proven, by Frank Calvert in 1865 to be precise. It's mythic history was then woven into the historic period called the Late Bronze Age Collapse. The Greeks would have called it the Golden Age Collapse, but why quibble - a collapse is a collapse.

The walls of Troy, as they were
The collapse involved the transition from the late bronze age to the early iron age, and the disruptions that resulted from this technological shift. Power structures are built on the now, and the new often causes things to tumble. According to Wikipedia, "The palace economy of the Aegean Region and Anatolia which characterised the Late Bronze Age was replaced, after a hiatus, by the isolated village cultures of the Greek Dark Ages." During this period, from 1206 to 1150 BC, we have the fall of the Mycenaean Kingdoms, the Hittite Empire, the New Kingdom of Egypt.  Not only was Troy destroyed (twice, apparently), but also the Hittite capital of Hattusas, and the city of Karaoğlan.

That sounds like D&D - small villages and brand new ruins to loot and plunder.


So what is different about a Post-Troy fantasy campaign than the standard D&D campaign?

Bronze Weapons: The fighting-men of this era are fighting with bronze weapons, rather than iron or steel. Iron was not unknown in this period, but iron weapons were probably still relatively rare - they were the high-technology of the time. With this in mind, it probably makes sense to allow bronze weapons to have the standard weapon statistics in your game (short sword 1d6 damage, etc.), and make iron weapons something akin to magic weapons in your campaign. A +1 bonus to hit probably makes sense, especially since they're being employed against bronze armor. It might also make sense to treat them something like silver weapons when fighting supernatural creatures, since the manufacture of iron, and thus blacksmiths in general, was considered magical by many people (any technology advanced enough, etc. etc.)

Come on Zeusy - my boy needs a cleric spell.
Divine Champions: In the Iliad and the Odyssey, we are introduced to the concept of certain characters being favored by the Greek gods and goddesses. This brings up the idea of casting clerics not as simple priests, but rather as extraordinary men and women favored by the gods, and perhaps descended from the gods. Odysseus, for example, had the blood of Hermes flowing through his veins, and Achilles was the son of the nymph Thetis, who could intervene on his behalf with Zeus. The idea here would be that these champions could pray to the gods and get solid, concrete results because they were part of the extended divine family. One might also use the demigod class I came up with in a campaign like this. At a minimum, feel free to make the gods and goddesses active participants in the campaign.


First and foremost, the Fall of Troy campaign provides a great megadungeon in the ruins of Troy. Sacked by the Greeks, a battleground (indirectly) of the gods, the famous horse, the sacked temples, the great palace, etc. Obviously, we'll need to bring in a subterranean aspect to the city - catacombs, caverns, etc. Making Troy a total ruin allows one to populate it with monsters - goblins and the like - bubbling up from the Hades' realm.

Any spot in Greek mythology is fair game, of course. The island of the gorgons, entrances to the underworld, the amazons' queendom (or its remnants), the oracle at Delphi (imagine the dungeon that exists below the oracle, from whence come the strange fumes that drive her prophecies), etc. 

Maybe the perfect campaign in this setting is one patterned on the journeys of Odysseus. This would be an island-hopping campaign, with the adventurers and their henchmen traveling from place to place, maybe trying to get home, maybe searching for a new home (i.e. Aeneas) and maybe just looking for treasure and adventure.

For another wrinkle, the Late Bronze Age Collapse might have also been the time period in which a prince of Egypt, by the name of Moses, led his people across the wilderness to a land promised to them by a mysterious deity who was really going to shake things up on the deific scene. Adventurers might have a chance to meet the guy who pretty much invented the Sticks to Snakes spell (or at least, the guy who cast it first).

Partial spell list: Sticks to snakes, part water, insect plague ...

A Fall of Troy campaign offers up an addition opportunity - brand new places to see. One of the famous stories that comes from the Fall of Troy is the founding of Rome by the exiled Trojan prince Aeneas. In a traditional D&D campaign, high level characters work hard to found strongholds, essentially medieval fiefs. In a Fall of Troy campaign, high level characters can work to lead their followers to a new land to found new city-states. The follow-up, of course, is a campaign of ancient war, the forging of new empires and ultimately the redrawing of the map of the ancient Mediterranean.
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