Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Eye of Lucidity (cost 8,000gp) - This blue sapphire sheds a heatless blue-white light of equal intensity to candle light when held in the hand of a living creature. It provides a +2 enhancement bonus to all Intelligence and Int-based skill checks when held and looked upon. It is popular with sages and other bookish sorts who find it's cool light inspires them when faced with a difficult text. It will not shine in the hands of any undead.
It radiates faint divination, enchantment and transmutation magics. Making an eye of lucidity is a requires the Create Wondrous Item feat and a 9th-level caster to cast detect undead, light and fox's cunning.
Warding Eye (cost 9,000gp) - This blue sapphire scintillates with motes of blue light. When a hostile spell is cast at the owner, a blue ray emanates from it to attempt a a counterspell. Roll 1d6 and compare this to the level of the spell being cast at the owner. If it is equal or higher, the spell is countered. If it is lower, the result is added as a circumstance bonus to the relevant saving throw (if any) against the effect.
Each ray causes a mote to disappear. A newly-made warding eye contains 30 motes. If found in treasure, a warding eye usually has 1d20+10 motes in it.
It radiates faint abjuration magics. Making a warding eye requires the Create Wondrous Item feat and an 11th-level caster to cast dispel magic and resistance.
Monday, 28 September 2009
The antagonist is an opposing force to a character. This may be a physical opposition but more often an opposition of ideology, philosophy or paradigm; in Gladiator, Maximus and Commodus are polar opposites; one a family man, battle-skilled general and highly principled while the other kills or imprisons his own family for power, has no experience of war outside training in personal combat and exemplifies decadence.
By the end of the story, the protagonist and antagonist need to have resolved a significant issue, which usually is a win for the protagonist. The root of interplay for protagonist and antagonist comes from the Greek play tradition of agon - where each side responds in an argument with the chorus as judge and the second person to speak traditionally wins for they have the last word.
An antagonist also embodies the internal conflict of the protagonist. In The Dark Knight and Batman comics, both the Joker and Two-Face show aspects of Batman; the former his outsider status and capacity for violence, the latter his dual identity and sense of vigilante justice - it's a measure of Batman's complexity as a character this actually works without seeming like an excuse to pile on villains for the sake of it.
If you prefer the Bard, Hamlet and Laertes are another example - the latter shares the former's passion for justice and obligation to family and the deaths of Polonius and Ophelia set these two on a collision course played out in the duel between them in the final act. The two tortured characters are mirror images of each other and it's this similarity that makes the inevitable tragedy poignant.
An antagonist must also prey on the weaknesses of a character, be it the protagonist or another character known to the protagonist. Lex Luthor makes an effective foil for Superman by access to kryptonite while Hannibal Lector exposes and exploits the psychological foibles of both Will Turner and Clarice Starling as well as his numerous patients. Having an inactive antagonist doesn't do very much for anyone.
There are many ways an antagonist can work to further the plot. Not all need to be villainous, Lieutenant Gerard from The Fugitive is one example of a noble antagonist - others exist where moral ambiguity exists in the plotline or the character needs to develop before facing off against a more threatening and definitely villainous antagonist or a mutually destructive situation.
A good antagonist has these traits and others that help make them admirable, if not sympathetic. They need to be given some depth to engage the audience and this means development and more than two-dimensional plotting of the character. It's said that the measure of an individual is by their enemies, ensure the protagonists are getting their money's worth and your audience will surely do the same!
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Free systems - If you like mecha, take a look at Gunwave. Those of you who fancy Harry Potter (slashfic ahoy!) can consider Broomstix (a light RPG). RPG Objects are offering the Two Worlds RPG for free. If you prefer your action a bit more Hong Kong/Korean-style give Wushu a shot.. Those of you fancying a bit more collaborative-paced story may want to try Archipelago II.
Organisation - Shout'em is a service that lets you make your own microblogging social network similar to Twitter. It's also mobile compatible for those who can't stay in front of a computer that long. Some elegant privacy and integration options as well. Use this to organise gaming groups or fan clubs.
Printables - Printable Paper offers you multiple styles of paper including storyboards and perspective grids as well as the more typical hex and square grids. Love for calligraphy, musical notation and printable games makes this even more impressive.
Talking - If you're looking for a (currently free) voice-chat client, try Voxli. It handles up to 200 folks at once (which deals nicely with online flash mob style gaming and interview chats) and has no limit on the number of rooms. It also stays within the browser. Enough for anyone, surely?
Woolgathering - Want to throw some ideas at a wall? Asking for feedback? Give Wallwisher a try as this virtual wall lets people put virtual notes on with a 160 character limit on. Being able to embed images, links and videos are options as is setting up a private wall or two. And it integrates with your Google login.
Saturday, 26 September 2009
A notorious pirate captain, Langrim was "...a bad seed, even among pirates." He would think little of wholesale slaughter once he'd got what he wanted and thought nothing of betraying prisoners so they believed they would be free only to find they were walking the plank into shark-infested waters. Langrim became a vampire lord by drinking from an accursed chalice studded with shark's teeth. He has kept this chalice ever since and forces those who would wish to join his crew to drink his blood from it by the light of the moon so that over time they become thralls to him. His fangs resemble those of a shark and his teeth are also serrated; the horror of his mouth is such that 'Langrim's Grin!' is exclaimed as an oath when a pirate is deeply shocked.
Langrim prefers to attack at night; where his abilities can help him. Like many of the more successful pirate captains he leads from the side, exhorting his pirates to pillage and plunder. In battle he alternates between scourge and cutlass, lacking the co-ordination to use two weapons at the same time. He usually leads with the cutlass to slow his opponent, lashes them with the scourge and repeats until he or his pirates can gain combat advantage. At that point, the deadly flanking attacks lead to the victim usually going down under a welter of pirates as they drain them dry.
Langrim has a healthy respect for magic and for clerics and paladins in particular. He usually insists they are the first to die in a combat unless he can find a way to parlay with them. Then he'll try to put them off-guard by using hostages, horrific spectacles or dilemmas where the divine servant must choose between compassion or foreswearing their deity. Langrim is known for his love of bloodshed. He rules the Blood Tide with an iron fist inside a spiked plate gauntlet, woe betide anyone who tries to defy him.
The Blood Tide
Langrim's ship is a high-sided caravel with three masts that flies a Jolly Roger stained red when she is entering battle or parlay with other pirates. The figurehead of the ship is a maiden whose wood has been enchanted by a wizard living in Blacksands to weep bloody tears from the eyes and into the water to create a bloody wake. This causes sharks to follow the ship (not all of them are Blood Tide pirates). Anyone jumping overboard from the Blood Tide must move at half swim speed unless they are in shark form or risk an attack from one of the many sharks that follow the boat (+17 vs. AC for 2d6+5 damage).
Friday, 25 September 2009
Here comes the terminology.
Push is where you tell an audience information. This may be in the form of exposition, narrative or handouts to provide information to interpret in real-time. It must have intrinsic value to induce involvement and be paced to prevent information overload or boredom. The audience can respond passively or actively, according to their perceived circle of influence or whim. This is followed by more information - act and react.
Pull is where you elicit a response from your audience and then act on it. An initial source of information is provided (so push elements exists in every pull) and offers (by soliciting input) a negotiation on the authority of that information. The audience must respond and this negotiation ends up creating collaborative scenes where participants are involved. A passive response implies no opinion is needed or will matter to the audience.
A level of rapport or trust with any audience is implied. Building trust is based on a three-step process of tell me, show me, involve me. By words and actions, authority is built or diminished. Key to building trust is a healthy dose of acceptance. Where authority and acceptance conflict, outcomes may be positive (willing suspension of disbelief) or negative experiences (You're dead! No I'm not!) for the audience.
Rhythm in communication is useful to build expectation, to maintain focus and prevent boredom. The salient question here is are the audience's needs being met? Is the horror story actually managing scary? Where are the pay-offs in this moment - are they visceral? vicarious? voyeuristic? A mixture of anticipation and frustration can build tension and lead to those pay-off moments, making the communication rewarding.
Note individual audience members may have different levels of trust and expectation of rhythm, knowing what is needed and then delivering it may be a process that needs investigation. The teacher's mantra of tell me, show me, involve me is mirrored in ARG and game design by it's mantra of exposition, interaction, challenge. This too requires a combination of push and pull communication.
Enough theory. Here's a framework (borrowed from the US Armed Forces) for you to use.
Plan what you're trying to get across. What payoffs and value are there? Fix the problems. When is it done?
Decide on your approach. Push or pull? What are your audience's needs? What are your strengths?
Execute with confidence. Bring in your strengths and smooth out bumps. Meet needs and make pay-offs.
Assess if it worked. Check if clarification is needed or if further input is desirable. Know when it's done.
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
- That the activity involved is challenging but the individual has a suitable level of skill to perform well; that there is balance between the activity and the competent performance of it. Too little skill leads to anxiety and apathy, too little challenge leads to apathy, boredom and lack of engagement.
- That the activity has clear goals and is inherently rewarding. Feedback is immediate so the individual can change their approach or behaviour. The individual knows what is expected and what to do next.
- The individual feels a sense of personal control over the activity even though they are not necessarily in control of the events around the activity or it's dependencies.
- Action and awareness merge so that individual focus is restricted to the performance of the activity leading to a loss of self-consciousness about external presentation. The activity becomes autotelic, it is done for the sake of the activity rather than focusing on an externalised goal. It is what it is.
- Concentrating on the activity prevents external events from distracting the individual - unease leading to anxiety and potential depression caused by these events cannot enter while focused on the activity and hence there is no sense of failure, just a sense of what needs to happen next.
- A change in how subjective time is perceived by the individual performing the activity. Time will often pass at an accelerated rate during periods of flow activity.
- Charts and graphs - Including those showing flow and generally processing information.
- Project summary - Purpose and intent. Why are we here again?
- Craziness - You have to have it to work here.
- Safe place - Where all may say what is otherwise only thought without comeback or recrimination.
- Result wall - Where it's going.
- Open topics
Monday, 21 September 2009
To have this work, a character must have buttons to press. One reason that Jaws was so effective was the character of protagonist Martin Brody, a man afraid of the water - home turf for a great white shark. For him to be on a boat hunting a shark raises the stakes - when the Orca is sinking, it's a truly desperate situation for him.
Psychologists note projection of discomforting emotions, wishes or ideas onto others is a psychological defence mechanism. In extreme cases, these issues may present a character confronting the event as either antisocial, paranoid, narcissistic or psychopathic which can colour their relationships with other characters or the society they are part of.
To adequately deal with the situation, a character must learn and use an apposite response. This could be done by altruism, anticipating and handling it, humour, identifying with or adopting a persona or archetype, sublimating fears and hangups into positive change or keeping a lid on the problem to deal with it safely later.
Other endings are possible, ones where a character suffers to survive; from repression (hiding the issue) to rationalisation (justifying the wrongdoing) to reaction formation (behaving in the opposite way to the situation) to fantasy or denial of the situation's reality. These alternatives have ramifications on the story and also on the audience itself.
The projection option is one that is easy to abuse and best saved as part of a transformative sequence or as a setup for a climax to a story. Done well it can illuminate the character and provide fulfilment to the audience so it's worth doing groundwork on the character beforehand and looking at their options but also at how the situation may play out in context of the story.
Sunday, 20 September 2009
About 10 miles south of Sao Paolo beyond the favelas where trees and bushes shelter the roadside is a frog farm. Out of corrugated iron and wooden buildings linked by a gravelled road, locals in bandannas, waders and stained denim net frogs from shallow pools linked by silted water channels to a perpetual chorus of cicadas. These frogs are stored in glass tanks in a building then transported by unmarked vans. The workers are all Brazilians, many skinheads with criminal records trying to reform.
The farm manager, Jose Costa runs a tight operation. Costa wears conservative suits, is well-groomed and never seems to perspire. He has no family and appears to be driven to helping reform criminals. The farm is profitable as it provides frogs for culinary and lab work for various interests. It is also a money-laundering operation for smugglers linked to the kameradenetwork. Costa has a passion for expensive cigars, cars and women and a talent for graft, motivating workers and handling corrupt officials, many of whom are 'friends'.
There are two notable exceptions to the staff. One is Till Wastrich, the farm's engineer. A pallid, gaunt German with lank hair, beady black eyes, wide mouth and skilled hands, he hunches inside a motorised wheelchair. He is an electrical and mechanical prodigy who knows the farm's systems. His voice and personality are a rusty razor wielded with merciless indifference to others, even his 'boss'. It's hard to determine his age, his face says late fifties but his eyes make you want to add twenty years.
The other is Herman Grippel, the farm's biologist. An obese German-Brazilian of indeterminate age with crewcut, tan skin and immaculate labcoat, his congenial nature and knowledge of firearms, medicine and toxicology make him dangerous - he plays a poker face but his eyes are a little too eager. He keeps pet tree frogs in a tank and harvests curare for his research, sometimes leaving the poor impaled frog sweating poison as a desk ornament. Such schoolboy cruelties amuse him no end.
Costa, Wastrich and Grippel maintain an underground lab with concrete walls, ceiling and floor sealed off by a three-inch thick steel plate with motorised counterweights. The lab has mechanical and electronic security measures and two main areas. One is a processing lab where batches of frogs are exsanguinated, the blood is mixed with enough ketamine to render a normal human comatose and placed in saline bags which are then taken through a steel door with a combination deadbolt lock into the processing room.
In here are six neonate vampires. In order to prevent trouble, their limbs and eyes have been removed and they have been restrained on medical backboards with vulcanised steel ball gags and hard collars, effectively preventing them from moving their necks or speaking. The intravenous feeds feed into the collars and the caniculae can be removed without getting within two feet of the vampire's mouth. A trochar (a hollow steel spike with a tap used in embalming) is inserted in their hearts, paralysing them as a stake would.
The doped frog blood is fed into the vampires during daylight hours, who convert it into vitae. Each vampire is given four pints of the mixture. Three pints of vitae are removed from each vampire by vacumn pumps and packaged for transportation by helicopter. The courier brings an empty vacumn-sealed and refrigerated case to transport the blood to it's intended destination. The courier will also periodically provide them with new test subjects, transported in a locked refrigeration unit.
Costa, Grippel and Wastrich have been running this operation for eighteen years in various guises, having used animal blood and vampires to provide vitae to their masters who have instructed them explicitly on what to do and how to do it. All three are protected by the kameradenetwork and occult forces who learned a lot of necromancy during the Holocaust. All three are motivated by the prospect of cheating death, by occasionally sampling the goods or through the ceremonies of their masters.
Saturday, 19 September 2009
These pirates serve aboard the Blood Tide, a pirate ship known for it's evil reputation and crew's adoration of bloody violence - the pirates carry out night raids on coastal towns that strike fear into those communities and then sail into free ports like Blacksands to sell their ill-gotten booty. Those who know of the Blood Tide often make conspicuous signs of faith or utter a prayer to be kept safe from them. Dark whispers of those who join the Blood Tide having to kill someone by drinking blood from a cup lined with shark's teeth are circulated by the credulous - the truth is worse.
Each is a seasoned cut-throat, skilled at flanking a foe and slashing them open with a swift cutlass blow and somehow always aware of what their captain wants. The tales of drinking blood from the open wounds of their enemies, sharpened teeth and willingness to throw victims to sharks makes them unpleasant company. At least one pirate has compared drinking with them with "...drinkin' wi' sharks who got legs - at least ye can trust a shark!" That said, the Blood Tide has notably worked well with other pirates, even though some 'differences of opinion wash the timbers in blood' to the benefit of all parties.
Their ability to shapechange into a shark is a secret though some sailors have reported that Blood Tide pirates have leapt off one side of a beleagured ship to vanish into shark-infested waters to reappear on the other side of the boat without a scratch and looking haler than when they jumped. It also allows them to scout out a port or quay without the Blood Tide risking attack from the land. Such exploration happens at night when the Blood Tide pirate can avoid notice and when night-lights are dimmed.
Next week: The fearsome Captain Langrim and the story of the Blood Tide.
Friday, 18 September 2009
Inside the Grill is cool and shady in summer but in winter, the wind sings off the lake like a wolf and braziers glow with burning coals and rushes to keep out cold. Goose (and trout) are on the menu, the speciality a cranberry ale with a sweetly tart aftertaste that agrees with goose. Those on a budget prefer small ale and Westride stew - a potluck of floured goose, salted fish, carrot and marshroot. Accommodation is in the shared common room, stabling is limited (five horses at most) away from the lake (a communal bath of sorts) where blankets and rush mats are provided to sleep on near the braziers.
The Grill was built on the site of a battle between a dragon and a band of heroes that tore a stand of trees up by the roots before ending in the lake. The survivors left a full pouch of gold to pay for the trouble to a woodsman who instead called his kin and built a longhouse from the trees. The dragon's bones gave the Grill furnishings and a hearth capable of containing fires that would burn through a wooden floor. The woodsman and his kin prospered from the Grill's location and trade and they have retired now to the city where they are making a living as merchants of timber and selling occasional dragon bones to wizards when business takes a turn for the worse.
The Grill serves as a refuge for fishermen, courier waystation and stop-off for explorers of the area; there is the occasional scuffle when a local gets too much ale or if a visitor objects to the basic conditions a little too loudly or gets precious about the stables. The staff alternate between garrulous and sullenly hung-over and while the Grill runs at a profit, it's just far enough away from the trade roads that merchants in a hurry prefer to camp in the open. This has become a sore point with the current landlord who thinks merchants are snubbing the Grill even though he has made them welcome. As a result, if a merchant shows up there is a great show of servility that provokes mutterings from the locals about the shameless favouritism.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
That's not to say the plot threads weren't linked - a resurgence of the conflict between Hermetics and Tremere tied to a conspiracy of vampires and mages trying to cure vampirism through certain rites with dire consequences (as the characters learned) and drew the attention of powerful mages.
In the background were plots leading to mass Ascension. The Technocracy sought to contain multiple threats and launched surgical strikes using intel from Nephandic sources but were losing control as the Avatar Storm was breaking down the Gauntlet and Oracles were walking the worlds.
The group of players were all seasoned roleplayers (about seventy years of gaming experience around the table) with a working knowledge of the World of Darkness; armed with handouts. The clues were there but the players were drowning. Where did the pieces go? Was this even the same jigsaw?!
Eventually we had to fold the game due to Real Life (tm) but it was still a blow as I spent over a year running it and the same prepping for it. That said, it's taught me a lot about organising game events; the need to recap information and using NPCs to prompt for and to summarise essential plot arcs.
It's also taught me you sometimes need to tie off loose ends in a way players can trust won't come back to bite them in the backside; you can work out a way to bring plots back if need be. Keeping things open can distract player focus - you can't look forward while looking over your shoulder...
I'm going to post some plot threads in future posts here so you can use them; after all, I've done the groundwork for it. In the event the game comes back around I'm not going to post threads they were directly involved in but this won't diminish the amount of material by that much.
Monday, 14 September 2009
- Competition over scarce resources (money, land, goods, leisure activities, attractive partners) is at the heart of all social interactions within a society.
- Structural inequalities (variation in levels of power and reward) within a social structure and those who have more power or resources desire to maintain things as they are (keeping the status quo).
- Conflict instead of adaptation occurs between competing social classes rather than adaptation; revolution rather than evolution.
- War can unify a society and that conflict is perceived as a source of power by those motivated by self-interest rather than altruistic means.
- Class. The primary disparity is between ownership of property although those in power will enforce their authority by other means including affiliation, alliances and if necessary by the sword.
- Race/Ethnicity. Where structural inequality (see above) exists between diverse groups then conflict follows, particularly where one group has an educational advantage, greater prestige or power.
- Gender. Even within a culture stratification of status may be applied to a specific gender leading to patriarchal or matriarchal societies such as the mythical Amazons.
- Regional. Drawn from assumptions made by one regional group about another, this is xenophobia; regions may be as small as neighbourhoods or as large as nations.
- Religious. The stratified nature of religion makes it an obvious choice, ranging from crusades against unbelievers to inquisitions of heretics and persecution of minorities who do not conform to orthodoxy.
- War. The ultimate expression of conflict theory; violent revolutions and genocide are two examples of the extremity of conflict theory. While Karl Marx argued that any system generates the seeds of it's own destruction it is also true such seeds need ground in which to flourish; failure leads to domination of the subordinate class. Or annihilation.
- Dispute. Ranging from industrial action to protest marches to dumping tea in the harbour over taxation, dispute is a renegotiation of an existing arrangement between different classes. Sometimes the renegotiation is successful; other times it can escalate to war or lead to persecution and domination as seen in the backlash against The Pilgrimage of Grace.
- Domination. No, not like that! More along the lines of post-Culloden Scottish Highlands, where the dominant group penalise behaviours of a subordinate group to discourage them (be it by law or force if need be). An example is the deracination of Indian nations in the 19th century, previously mentioned here.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
Yet it isn't unexpected and we shouldn't be surprised. Gary Gygax (remember him?) is famed for his quote:
I have met dozens, perhaps over a hundred, very experienced roleplayers with this profile: a limited repertoire of games behind him and extremely defensive and turtle-like play tactics. [...H]e hunkers down and does nothing unless there's a totally unambiguous lead to follow or a foe to fight. His universal responses include, "My guy doesn't want to," and, "I say nothing."
I have not, in over 20 years of roleplaying, ever seen such a person have a good time roleplaying. I have seen a lot of groups founder due to the presence of one such participant. Yet they really want to play...
The Forge currently has more authority on Technorati than Wizards of the Coast and last I checked, there were a lot more D&D fans (and blogs) than for indie games! So why aren't they linking back? Is it a choice or did the GSD website policy hit that low? The Internet isn't the be-all and end-all but it's a significant indicator of mood and trend.
The Old School Renaissance has addressed simplicity of play by use of retro-clone games, stripped down mechanics and clarity of purpose has invigorated gamers. Yet it may have contributed to the turtle play style - if you're willing to game, expect regular attrition and cultivate detachment to your character. This is agon (win/lose) style play, no save points, no taking back.
So people look at how to enable rewarding play, to encourage fiero (triumph), kenosis (immersion) and paida (fun). I've said before that 4E is a great entry-level game, not least for it's advice on how to play and DM, yet it's relentless publication cycle and conservative marketing approach where the Internet is involved do it no favours. Some are already performing the last rites.
In our attempts to find flowing play via Gygax's Big Secret, our attitude and communication steer the ship and how players engage with a game is key - the presence of MMORPGs make engaging, simplified, challenging play a priority. The ROLPUNK manifesto urges people to get out there and play without prejudice; to pick up what works and run with it. Now is the autumn of our discontent it seems.
Saturday, 12 September 2009
Mokhus, a cyclops crusher with added punch.
Mokhus was born under an evil star, his nose hooked and as long as a troll's, his body gnarled like the dark forests of the Feywild. He favours a half-mask of black iron because it 'makes him look pretty' and the chainmail he's improvised is shown extravagant care. Despite a face only a fomorian could love, the real horror is his voice, which shifts from a screech worthy of a hag to a roar that a dire bear would feel proud of. The voice carries an echo of thunder in it, when Mokhus fights he screeches with laughter that bedevils those unfortunate enough to get close enough. Those who stay there usually experience the spiked greatclub he calls 'Little Mokhus' and the withering power of his evil eye.
Mean and crafty with a vicious streak as broad as his shoulders, he has two default attitudes to any situation. One is to feign stupidity and ignorance so that events are apparently nothing to do with him. The other is violence, which he's rather good at and which he takes plenty of deliberate interest in. This informs his methods of combat which are to feign ignorance of someone until they come close enough and then he roars with laughter and pounds them with Little Mokhus for their trouble, screeching about his attacks being the way it's done. His cruelty is abundant and near-indiscriminate, if the opportunity presents itself, he will beat women, children and animals.
Other cyclops avoid Mokhus, knowing a bad one when they see it. The fomorians are divided on the subject, Mokhus has been exiled from one fomorian kingdom for his disobedience and violence while other, more ambitious fomorians wonder how to court the brutish Mokhus so that his unique traits may be passed onto their warriors. Mokhus doesn't care as long as there is food to eat, things to crush and gold to waste on food, fine company and strong drink. His brutish sadism makes him a target for good and right-thinking folk but his sheer strength and inapproachability in melee makes him a difficult proposition.
Friday, 11 September 2009
Eye of Agony - This glyph appears as a stylised weeping eye and explodes for 1d4 acid damage per 2 caster levels (to a maximum of 5d4 damage) to the intruder and any within 5 feet. All affected by the glyph suffer a wave of magical pain that forces living creatures of 5HD/5th-lvl or less to make a Will save (DC13) or be dazed for one round.
Glare of Winter - This glyph resembles a stylised snowflake and explodes for 1d6 cold damage per 2 caster levels (to a maximum of 5d6 damage) to the intruder and any within 5 feet. All affected by it suffer a momentary flash of light that forces creatures with eyes of 5HD/5th-level or less to make an additional Fortitude save (DC13) or be blinded for one round.
Thunder's Kiss - This hammer-like glyph explodes for 1d4 sonic damage per 2 caster levels (to a maximum of 5d4 damage) to the intruder and any within 5 feet. All affected by the glyph must also make a Reflex save (DC13) or be knocked prone by the force of the blast.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
"It was not so long ago I got this hand... and for me, the old saying 'You can never go home' is the truth. Unless the idea of danger appeals to you..."
-- Adaun Ludlam, mercenary
He tried to return after Rendersson had set constructs to guard the pass. The drover was a fool and the caravan paid the price yet the constructs avoided Adaun until he attacked one. Were it not for his warhorse and the straps on his saddle, he would have died with them. He rode into town mauled and his horse died under him, pursued by a cloaked figure that vanished as the militia raced to him.
Adaun recovered in time and learned how to fight constructs, of Raithen's soldiers visiting the Vale and of the assassination of the warmongering king. He fears the soldiers knew the assassin and have made the Vale their domain, using Forgegrinder's craft to help them. He believes Forgegrinder is dead for no wizard can find him. Adaun fought inconclusively with the cloaked stalker once and has managed to stay one step ahead. For now.
Adaun will offer his services as bodyguard or soldier to anyone travelling near the Hidden Vale. He has a reputation among the merchants and locals as being bad luck and disliking warforged. He knows that people who knew of his old home keep dying and now keeps quiet about where he comes from. He knows that the Vale can last a while but he cannot face the constructs alone and offers a season's pay to those willing to help.
This post is inspired by the Nevermet Press post Automated Antagonist.
Monday, 7 September 2009
Used rhetorically, it implies a forced choice:
"Either you're part of the solution or you're part of the problem."This may lead to a false dilemma or false dichotomy, where the choice doesn't actually matter, in the manner of Morton's Fork. John Morton, Lord Chancellor of Henry VII of England justified the taxation of England's nobility by saying:
-- Eldridge Cleaver, presidential campaign 1968.
"Either the nobles of this country appear wealthy, in which case they can be taxed for good; or they appear poor, in which case they are living frugally and must have immense savings, which can be taxed for good."This left the nobility in a position where either way, they would lose out. In formal logic, this is the definition of a dilemma as either option implies the same outcome, regardless of the individual truths of each option. This is also typified by characters who display black-and-white thinking, where people and situations are either good or evil, without ambiguity.
An ethical dilemma (or ethical paradox) occurs when someone is forced to choose between violating a moral code in order to survive. This is often used to refute or reinforce a moral code using a choice with one option weighted towards a more vital level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs e.g. Valjean's stealing in Les Miserables is justified by his need to feed his family.
Examples include Carneades' Plank (where two sailors swimming need the same plank to live, if one pushes the other away from it and causes them to drown, has the survivor commited murder?) and the Samaritan's dilemma that posits the presence of charity or state-sponsored aid will promote dependency as well as slothful or negligent citizens because the safety net will always be there since the choice between self-improvement through survival or just survival will always be weighted towards survival first.
A moral dilemma generally implies that doing the right thing may lead to a bad consequence while doing the wrong thing may lead to a better outcome. Machiavelli uses this in The Prince to justify the necessary evils that he believes a ruler must take as when all other issues are set aside, it is preferred on a practical level to have all things turn out well. Such consequences-based thinking is justified as follows.
In all men's acts, and in those of princes most especially, it is the result that renders the verdict when there is no court of appeal.In other words, the ends justify the means. What happens in a situation where either option is unacceptable (e.g. Sophie's Choice) or where the means are patently wrong is complicated by social relationships, spiritual tenets, political and economic factors and may lead to conflict between the audience and the story's point of view which may be driven by a conflict between social, moral or even spiritual values (one example is the shifting attitude to slavery). Where a moral dilemma comes into play, it must follow that there is a defined moral or ethical code potentially being violated.
Duty of commission (doing something) may lead to further complication based on the ability of the individual and the opportunity of the situation, for example is someone who can't swim expected to save someone from drowning in a riptide by jumping from a high cliff to get them? It also has no direct consequence on the individual beyond the individual's conscience or opinion of any witnesses to the scene (if the individual passes by, a coroner will likely rule accidental drowning) - highlighting the moral ambivalence sometimes found in matters of law since ability and opportunity are subjective and matters of judgement.
Duty of omission (not doing something) is a simpler moral imperative to understand (thou shalt not kill) as it's violation leads to evidence (a body) and direct consequences on the individual. All that remains is for the evidence and the relevant laws to be interpreted correctly for justice to be done - itself easier said than done.
There are instances where a dilemma may be dependent on other choices made by other characters such as the prisoner's dilemma, a component of game theory and driver behind mathematical arguments linked to the atomic bomb and the digital computer. Expanding this dilemma presents options where co-operation can further a plot or situation while developing tensions between individual agendas. The outcome and benefits of co-operation need to be signposted to prevent the nascent alliance from falling apart.
In all cases, the dilemma must be relevant to the character. Throwing someone into a situation where there are conflicts with values and morality may be a good way to build tension but needs context to the character and to the larger themes of the story. The ending of Romeo & Juliet would not be so poignant without reference to the love each feels that they cannot bear to live without each other and the backdrop of conflict between their families.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
"Name your pleasure, sirs." (reaching for a tankard)
A short, stocky man with a sheaf of unruly red-gold hair, neat beard and gold nose-ring and finger-rings. Angus loves work, laughs loudly as appropriate and keeps a fine selection of ales and wines. A keen haggler, he tolerates no nonsense and calms things down with a free drink which Tallis Broom or one of his peers will take to the offended party. At ease with merchant or king, Angus fears only the owners who rescued him and obviously powerful magic.
Gildehart Locke, locksmith and customer
"Angus! More wine for my friends!!" (gesturing expansively)
A balding, florid-faced tradesman wearing green linen and brocade, Locke is a talented locksmith with a squinting eye for detail, a patron to artists and a regular guest. He drinks wine and hungers for gossip. New faces in the Tower are often plied for news. Locke has invested in the Tower and quietly takes a small share of the profit, enough to let him retire if he didn't love his trade so much and the thieves guild didn't have him on retainer.
Kornelie Valeden, serving maid.
"How may I serve you sir?" (curtseying while balancing a tray full of ales).
Kornelie is almost a cipher, a blonde serving maid whose beauty and demure manner capture the heart and whose grace keep her from grabbing hands. She plays dumb but regulars know behind the cornflower blue eyes lies a keen mind and memory for detail. It's this capacity the owners use to prise secrets out of their guests without their realising it or without compromising her eligibility as a wife.
Pepin Ruber (Pip), body servant.
"Scents for my lady?" (said while presenting a single white rose).
An endearing dark-haired lad in his mid-teens without adolescent traumas, he is competent, well-groomed and only a little lazy. A natural salesman and youthful darling of many a lady guest of the Rose Tower, his charm perfectly masks a virulent hate of strong men who he sees as rivals. Those who see beyond appearances find his eyes are windows into Hell. He has potential to be a dark lord and has already achieved the rank of inglorious bastard.
Tallis Broom, enigmatic security.
"..." (said while 'helping' a troublesome, suddenly sleepy patron out.)
Tallis is a nondescript older man of average height with sad brown eyes, with a talent for disappearing if you look away. He may have been an assassin but it never comes up in conversation. Tallis has two concealed daggers and five magical rose thorns that put a victim to sleep and a plethora of powders he knows precisely how to use to eliminate 'evidence'. Very little perturbs him, be it the human condition, magic or slaughter he is perfectly stoic.
Saturday, 5 September 2009
1. Take care of business - Fire up the computer then get yourself a drink and something healthy to snack on; attending to biological needs is the first step to solving the problem and removes any distractions. Plus the very act of doing these things gets you out of the 'must prep' funk you've put yourself in. Take about five minutes if you can as this is the lead up to your main objective.
2. Write down what you want to achieve - By this I mean something like 'Run a fun and entertaining game session with my friends (insert names here).' This is a declaration of intent and you'll refer back to this later. You need only write one sentence per minute on this and can only spend three minutes tops on it. This will help your focus if you find your attention drifting.
3. Look at your notes - Unless this is a new session, your dog was super-hungry or (insert crisis here) destroyed your notes, you have source material already at your disposal. This includes any copies of character sheets you have available so get up to speed - spend no more than seven minutes getting a feel for things and don't sweat the small stuff up to and including the Maoist Revolution.
4. What shall we do tonight, Brain? - You know your players/audience. Have you already got something you can adapt like a module or sourcebook encounter into maybe three to five encounters? One of the strengths of 4E D&D is prep of this kind is very easy to do - even lazy DMs can handle it. Keep an eye on the strengths of your party and remember to adjust for balance - you have 20 minutes.
If you don't - feel free to go cross-game/genre and amend some minor details. Does chasing a werewolf wizard arsonist* as she sets fires in a town to conceal her plan to awaken a fiendish vampire cleric sound like good 3.xE fun? Who cares if it's a World of Darkness scenario? Do some converting! You get 25 minutes with this option as it's a bit harder. Help is available!
So you're away from most of your stuff? There are plenty of online resources even if you're strapped for ideas. I've referenced Abulafia before and will also flag Roleplaying Tips, WotC's Map-A-Week Archive (maps kill me) and the blogosphere has many ready-made characters, items, locations and monsters for you to work with - as you have the most work to do, you get 30 minutes.
Some sites provide additional system-specific help including D&D Insider and the d20 SRD. Plenty of other examples exist for your system and Google (or some other search engine) will find them for you once you've read this post. Don't try to find them in the hour prep as you need that time for everything else. Feel free to leave your personal favourites in the comments.
You need three encounters minimum as people have worked out that the typical gaming session (about 3 hours) goes through an encounter an hour. I would aim for four or five ideally, which makes the five room dungeons from Roleplaying Tips a particularly handy resource as you can springboard off those or even - gosh - use them with some personalised tweaks.
5. Tweaks and Session Preparation
Take a look at the result of the preceding steps in context of step 2. Your friends need an individual moment in the sun so check what you've put together can give them a moment to shine. Ten minutes will hopefully sort this out - you have an extra five minutes if you have pre-generated materials handy as you'll need time to familiarise yourself with subtle nuances your original reading missed...
6. Get organised - Get the books and materials (miniatures, maps, notes and dice) together; if you're hosting then get the room set up as you need to; this will hopefully take about 5 - 10 minutes. Take a couple of deep breaths, roll your shoulders back on each breath and smile as you exhale. Remind yourself these are your friends and that you're here to have fun.
There. One hour. You've had time to tweak the material, review it for fit and possibly improve on a classic design. How often does that happen in your usual preparation? Now go kick some ass!
* - Rumours of her name being Samantha Hayte cannot be substantiated.
Friday, 4 September 2009
Outside the Rose Tower are eight arbours that the roses grow around. These are big enough for a couple to sit in and watch the world go by, enjoying ale or wine from simple clay goblets. Horses are stabled in a city stables as local laws prohibit private steeds to be ridden through the streets; this arrangement is made in return for getting rid of a share of the manure which is used for the roses which are kept thriving through some skillful gardening and judicious application of magic.
Inside, the Rose Tower rivals the opulence of the nobility. The common room is anything but. White and rose marble tiles chequerboard the ground floor tavern and three tables form a stage for minstrels and entertainers. Liveried serving girls move behind the chairs where patrons sit, dine, drink and discuss business. The walls are decorated with rambling rose motifs and tapestries of courtly romance. Prices are expensive but the quality of food and drink is good enough that people do not mind and their stock is comprehensive.
The first and second storeys have private rooms for guests. Decorated with murals of romantic scenes with beds with down-filled mattresses, each room has a heavy iron bath-tub that may be filled for the price of a night's rest - the servants who bring the water (and a small urn of coals to heat it with) will offer oils and scents to wealthy patrons. At least one courtesan has arranged a liaison at the Rose Tower and it's staff haven't yet revealed any secrets - perhaps out of fear or respect of the owners who dwell in the top storey.
They have always paid well and who have always taken pains to smooth over problems with troublesome locals who are rarely heard of again if they cause a commotion in the Tower. The owners pay enough to stay out the attentions of the law and pay dues to the dominant criminal guilds to ensure no trouble disturbs their business, which appears to be primarily keeping wealthy. They are conspicuous about staying out of courtly matters and there are whispers the owners are a retired courtesan and her magician lover which would scandalise court.
Those who pry into the owners will find the manager of the Rose Tower positively uncommunicative; pressing the issue will re-classify the inquisitive as troublesome. Those who fit this criteria will usually go missing at some point due to a combination of drugged drink and discreet gentlemen who know entirely too much about how to subdue troublesome types, poisons and how to deal with extraordinary situations. There are only three of these individuals but their capabilities more than make up for the lack of numbers.
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Bodyguard's Buckler - This +1 buckler is made of a single piece of oak bound in black leather inset with shining steel studs. When wielded and the command word 'crosaire' spoken, a wielder can make a Reflex save (DC20) to take a single melee or ranged attack for an ally within five feet of them as a free action. The wielder must be aware of the impending attack. Exceptional missile weapons like giant-hurled boulders or Melf's Acid Arrow cannot be diverted with this item.
Faint abjuration magic. CL: 5th; Craft Magic Arms and Armour, shield. Price: +1 bonus.
Shield of Bearing - This circular +1 heavy steel shield (3' diameter) can bear up to 300lbs weight if laid boss-side down and the command word 'baere' is spoken (this word is usually carved on the back of the shield) for up to three hours once a day. The shield rises three feet off the floor and remains level unless the weight limit is exceeded. The shield usually follows the wielder at 15' per round. The wielder can step onto the shield and (if it can) will lift them three feet off the ground but will not move anywhere.
Faint abjuration and transmutation magic. CL: 5th; Craft Magic Arms & Armour; Tenser's Floating Disk. Price: +1 bonus.
Urchin Shield - This +1 light wooden shield appears to be made out of pearlescent cactus hide but is in fact the skin of a giant sea urchin. On command (the word 'tulang' is commonly used) the shield can extrude spines so that it is effectively a spiked shield and once a day it can fire three spines at a foe within 30' that strike unerringly for 1d4+1 damage per spine. The spines are treated as magic missiles for the purpose of magical defences against them.
Faint abjuration, evocation and transmutation magic. CL 3rd; Craft Magic Arms & Armour; alter self, magic missile. Price: +2 bonus.
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
Nicholas Hook, a serf and archer outlawed by family feud and striking a priest during a purge of heretics in London is a likeably pragmatic underdog. He must contend with vengeful relatives, sadistic priests, the arbitrary might of nobles, the brutality of war and what comes after with his skill as an archer, an eye for opportunity and rare help from unusual sources. Not the most erudite man, his development through the book is measured and believeable.
The book presents a yeoman's eye-view, first as an archer in a mercenary band at the massacre of Soissons, then as part of a military company of archers in the army of Henry V who after a grueling siege at Harfleur end up at the bloody battle of Azincourt. Cornwall makes good use of Christian theology in reckoning dates and emphasising the dominant and pervasive nature of the Church in dealing with kings and peasants alike.
Cornwall's love of this particular era of history shines through. The characters are consistent and considered, even the Seigneur de Lanferelle, a knight famed for cruelty at Soissons is believable and in some points sympathetic. The book rattles along and the battle scenes are reminiscent of Branagh's Henry V and Braveheart both in sweeping scale and bloody mire - while the story is Anglocentric, it's unsurprising, just as Braveheart's sympathies are Scottish.
Though some gamers may find Azincourt's love for the combination of war bow and poleaxe unseemly in places, the description of melees and effectiveness of armour makes interesting reading. In my edition of the book, Cornwall goes further and shares some of his research, showing some of the history of what it took to make a good battle archer and the effects that the bow had on armour and warfare during this turbulent time.
I recommend this book, not just for it's craft but also for it's content. It presents a compelling vision of the archers as an elite force and it's knowledge of the archer's trade and reputation among English citizens and French soldiers alike. Characters have believable flaws and are given opportunity to reveal and overcome them. The battle sequences are distinctive and pull no punches, from the rout of Soissons and horrors of Harfleur's siege to Azincourt's muddy glory.
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