Monday, July 11, 2011

Tales From the Arabian Nights: D&D Borrowings # 1

We've a local Half Price Books store nearby my home and I often go there and check out the nice and always changing collection of role playing stuff and board games. I saw a RuneQuest Boxed Set and Three Supplements this last time but was unable to buy!!! They do their Internet homework and it was priced accordingly.

However, I did find a paperback copy of the complete Tales from the Arabian Nights lavishly illustrated by one of my new favorite artists, H.J. Ford. I find the tales delightful. I think as a parent you couldn't go wrong if you limited your children's film viewing to weekends, only let them watch DVD's you have selected, and spend the rest of the time reading books like this to them! In this age of video games, Internet, movies and I-Phones, I don't think you're going to turn a kid onto these treasures of the past unless you do so from an early age, let them get a love for such things, and then let them find pop and tech culture. Okay, that's Dr. Spock stuff, onto gaming.

Aside from the great stories there are a lot of elements in here you could adapt for games and I will be blogging some of them.  So to start of with here is a magical item from one of the tales.

The Oracles of Douban




The Oracles of Douban are a large silver, jeweled bowl with a covered item in the bowl and a great leather bound tome whose cover is wrought with silver fastenings. The book will be found to be resting under the bowl.

If the covering is removed, to the horror of the finder there will be seen a severed head of an aged man, perfectly preserved by some enchantment and appearing as it did in life. It's eyes are closed.

This is the head of Douban the Physician. Douban was unjustly executed by a great King of the East who was falsely convinced by a jealous vizier that Douban meant to usurp his throne. The king had his trusted counselor  beheaded but the head spoke after hitting the floor and told the King that magic bound Douban's life to his Book of wisdom and that he would serve as the king's Oracle--many questions cold be asked from the book which the head of Douban would be bound to answer.

Much of Douban's tale was true.

What he did not tell the king was that there was a curse associated with the book and the King fell prey to it!

Whoever locates and possesses the Oracles of Douban will find that the Book is filled with small script covering an amazing array of topics. However, the information is of such a scholarly level and references such obscure names, places and facts that it would be impossible for anyone other than the most brilliant sage alive to even guess how to make sense of it...it represents a lifetime of Douban's esoteric research.

If you as a DM are fortunate enough to possess the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary Gygax, you have a ready made source of information as to the Sage material contained within the Book. The Book has two Minor Fields of Study and Four Special categories in Major Field. The normal percentage chances applied to Sages here applies as noted on page 31-32 of the DM's Guide. If you do not have the DMG, you can simply assign a percentage chance to the possibility of the Book containing references to the subject mater in question.

The book alone is worthless as a source of knowledge--the real treasures lie within Douban's incredible brain, and it is a wondrous fact that when the book is opened, the eyes of the head of Douban open as well and fasten themselves upon the holder of the book. The head will also speak and say "Ask Thy Question, Seeker of Knowledge. Douban Will Answer Thee."


The power of the Book and Head of Douban is that once every seven days, the possessor may ask a question pertaining to the Sage's knowledge and receive a true answer. The head will converse at length on the subject of the question and relay as much information as is asked. A powerful gift indeed and a gateway to many adventures if our heroes are inquiring of Douban as to places and people associated with ancient relics or lost kingdoms. The Oracles of Douban could become a regular feature of a campaign. The Book is  a very coveted item by those aware of it's purported existence.

The Head does not converse other than to answer it's appointed questions. unless, of course, the DM wishes it to...perhaps it cajoles or curses those who use it's powers! Perhaps he is a leering old man who makes inappropriate comments to the female Player Characters! Note that the Oracles do not act as an augury spell or divine the future--its uses are confined to actual subjects researched by Douban while he was alive. Asking a question like "Where in the realms is my old friend Mension Leaf?", for example, would be a useless question and Douban might make fun of the person who asks it.

In any event, Douban will truthfully answer all queries as a matter of the Physician's pride.

Nonetheless, Douban and his book are cursed, and every time the Oracles are consulted, a saving throw vs. Spells must be made by the character using them. Failure means that some terrible thing happens, as designed by the DM.

Enjoy Douban and his Book! Future Borrowings are to come.



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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Forbidden Mazes of the Jinnorak




An old school romp! Here is the scene from that loveable eighties anti-D&D flick where I plagiar...er, I mean, borrowed the title of my blog from! Have I ever played in games set up like the one in this film? Absolutely, and where do you think I got the idea as a thirteen or fourteen year old D&D addict? Enjoy!

video

Applying D&D Alignment to Historical Figures

Example being the best teacher, I decided to set forth a list of historical figures that seemed to fit neatly into D&D alignment categories.

As a lover of history and having some small education beyond high school in the subject, I certainly realize that popular conceptions of good and evil figures of history are largely subjective and not always historically sound.

I also realize that in real life, people are individuals and there is probably no such thing as a stratified code of alignments. Does good exist? I think it does. Does evil exist? I believe it to be so. But quantifying and defining them is not always so easy as one might wish.

 Good and evil are often in the eyes of the people as they judge history--which, as we have always heard, is written by the victors.

Nonetheless, this is a blog about role playing games and not philosophical questions and so we are mainly interested in the use of alignment in the game.

To this end, I submit these examples of some of the major alignments. Subcategories may be dealt with in a second post on the subject. I have avoided any modern historical figures so as to steer clear...as much as possible...from any religious, moral or political disagreements in the community.

So here we go. Let's start with extreme good and work our way down (or up, if you prefer) the spectrum...

CHAOTIC GOOD




Your personal opinion on the actual roots and causes of the US war Between the States notwithstanding, John Brown is, to my thinking, a good example of this alignment.  The Chaotic good character knows what he feels is ultimate good or truth---he also realizes that human laws are weak substitutes for this Ultimate Good, being made by corrupt officials influenced by power and money or people too afraid to act up in defense of righteousness. Thus while he does not especially go out of his way to break said laws, nor will he be constrained by them from doing his Moral Duty. The use of violence and arbitrary personal justice is perfectly acceptable in pursuance of that Duty...after all, the guilty deserve to be punished, other zealots need encouragement, and the undecided need to be shown an example. Chaos in and of itself is not  necessarily evil--it can be used to destroy corrupt or noneffective social orders. Guided by righteousness it is a powerful tool for good and only when society bases its laws upon this Ultimate good...which the fearful say is only misguided idealism and maybe even delusion...should those laws be obeyed.



LAWFUL GOOD


Martin Luther caused quite a stir in his day. His tracts and pamphlets led to some very bloody peasant revolts and uprisings. Luther, however, condemned these revolts and always remained committed to upholding the ideal of civil and social law and obedience to rulers. He sought only to reform the ecclesiastical institutions of the Catholic Church. He appealed for help from earthly princes to protect him from the edicts of the Church. The Lawful Good character is just as motivated by ideas of good and righteousness as the Chaotic Good, but he is not radical, at least not with respect to obedience to Laws. Fighting for the Ultimate Good is noble action, but it must be governed by a body of agreed upon laws or even the divine order of an Emperor. No individual has the right to play Judge, jury and Executioner--once you choose to do so, the lawful good character will condemn your actions, even if you shared a Common cause or moral belief.


NEUTRAL


I am certain that many will disagree with my choice of William the Conqueror as an example of Neutral. It was difficult for me to think of a Neutral Alignment example from any period of history! Neutrality as noted here, however, is simply with regard to moral philosophy or ethical codes. The Harrying of the North was a rather ruthless campaign that can only be termed butchery and certainly evil from the viewpoint of the Saxons. And yet there was a real unification of England and many reforms that took place under his reign--William does seem to have tried to build up the Kingdom he ruled over in it's buildings and its laws.  I think in the end he was actuated not by any morally good or evil ethos but by a naked pragmatism that allowed him to use whatever means were at his disposal--"good" or "evil"--to pursue an end that, unlike those of truly evil alignments, was not strictly about himself. The truly Neutral character is not guided by selfishness or selflessness...he chooses a course based on certain personal objectives or tasks he wishes to accomplish and uses the means at his disposal. He is not out to harm others but nor does he owe them anything unless he decides he does for his own reasons. Yet this does not mean he has no cause or life's mission. William represents a grander scale of mission perhaps, but a more lowly Neutral character might have something he wishes to do that is just as important to him and like William, he will do whatever it takes to accomplish that end.

LAWFUL EVIL


To be determined. Who do you suggest?


CHAOTIC EVIL


The Emperor who allegedly fiddled while Rome burned...indeed, Nero is believed by many to have been the true culprit in the great conflagration which conveniently expanded  his palatial holdings. From killing close family members to torturing people for simple amusement to the most debauched of personal behavior, I was hard pressed to think of a better example of Chaotic Evil. Caligula was probably worse, but he is less famous than this man which the Apocalypse of St John may refer to in code as the "AntiChrist". A Chaotic Evil character is solely concerned with his own power, pleasure, aggrandizement, and will. Nothing and no one else matters unless he deems them to matter from his own personal prejudice or his merest whims.  He may indeed serve a deity or a cause which he believes will further advance these desires but Chaos is to him the truest philosophy, the one based upon naked power and those who are able to hold it. Ultimate Good does not exist, or, if it does, the Chaotic Evil character is indifferent to it.  Lawful notions are simply weak sentimentality at best or a means of control of the sheep by  clever elitists at worst and in any event they only protect people too weak to protect themselves. Thus they are useless!

These few examples are perhaps flawed but hopefully they can serve as  templates for alignment in D&D.

I am most interested in hearing comments on these proposed alignment models and other proposals that you may have in mind.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rysanthis

The Realms of Rysanthis
Thought I would upload a map of mine I drew a few years ago as a setting for some stories I began to write.

The Map is somewhat special to me as it represents a thawing time in my life when I began to return to fiction, fantasy, and role playing games after a self imposed monastic period regarding these things for almost 20 years.

Then, one day, back in about 2007 or 2008, I started writing some medieval and fantasy themed fiction set in the world of Rysanthis. And while I was doing this, I remembered how much I had loved fantasy literature and gaming.

 I really had missed it but at the time I had devoted myself completely and exclusively to spiritual pursuits.

The only exception had been the Hobbit and the Chronicles of Narnia, both of which had been loved by my kids. I read the Hobbit to my son during a  three day camping and hiking trip when he was eight and to this day it is his favorite tale. But that was the extent of fantasy in my very austere life style.

Somehow, the Holy Grail had remained elusively and always just beyond reach, and the things I had labored long for do not seem to have ever materialized,though in their place were many life lessons for which I will be eternally grateful  and which I now count more valuable to me to the air castles I had sought to build.  I use them term air castles with regards to human endeavors alone and please do not construe it as a derogatory remark about subjects of faith.

As Rysanthis started to expand as an idea, I went to a local gaming store and bought some dice and miniatures. And having not a single rule book in my house or any other rpg resource, I sat my kids (then 11 and 12) down at our kitchen table and created basic D&D  characters from memory alone.

My son was a Merling Prince, a half Mer Folk, half human. My daughter created a swashbuckling female buchaneer. And I ran the first game I had played in for almost two decades. And we had geat fun for several games, just the three of us. They made friends with a certain Captain Hakim who piloted a cutter called the Scimitar and sailing up and down the coasts of Rysanthis had a few wonderful adventures! I recall that the above map always had to be placed prominently in view by my daughter whenever we played and she would look at it often, as if it helped her to visualize the game. Also paramount to her was the action of rolling the d20! She would get very excited when it was time to do this, even though the only mechanic was me saying, "Okay, you need such and such number to hit this monster!" Rysanthis was the name of the game, they had no conept of D&D having never seen or heard of it. They would say, "Hey Dad, can we play Rysanthis?"

Meantime, we moved states, and didn't play Rysanthis very often due to the work involved in settling into a new locale.

I should note that the city state of "Levius" was named after my son Levi and his father was the Emperor of the kingdom of Hafalla that is pictured--Alistar was his character's name,  a wayward prince who wanted to adventure instead of be bound to the duties of the throne and he was always eluding his father's men-at-arms who tried to forcibly bring him back. "Hethron" in the north is named for my daughter Heather and was where Illisa, her character, was born but she was spirited away as a bay and was unaware of her royal lineage.

The concept of Rysanthis was that Dragons had once ruled the world, heroes had driven them out and established man, and the dragon Guard, an old order of knights that fought the Dragons, maintained an army along the borderlands to prevent the incursions of these monsters which came in two sorts, those of animal itelligence which were essentially simply giant winged lizards, and the intelligent sort, once believed extinct. The latter Dragons were sorcerers and had taught mankind the black arts and were worshiped as gods by certain primitive tribes.

My daughter eventually decided she didn't care for role playing very much, though my son really took to the hobby and after paying in some groups, discovered he liked D&D best over all systems, at least as of this writing. And I have so enjoyed coming back to this fun and fascinating hobby and aside from the games, have made some important friendships and spent a lot of quality time with my son.

Anyway, I kept the map as a souvenir of our voyages aboard the Scimitar and the tales I wrote. Perhaps I will upload them some time. I will see if I can drag out some old character sheets.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Challenge and the Lure of Historical RPG Settings

Two games I am gearing up to run and will be starting this holiday weekend are Hidden Kingdom Arthurian fantasy game and...maybe...a fantasy & historical setting using Dave Arneson's Adventure in Fantasy Rules.

I have very mixed feelings about the latter. Not because of the rules, which I love, but the challenge in running a historical setting.

 The Germanic and Celtic concepts of the Faery realm and it's races are so beautifully written in AIF that I decided to take the setting back to the places where those myths were born---Britain, Ireland and the Teutonic tribal areas of Upper Germany. The difference would be that in the game setting, the mythology is real and there are monsters, magicians, and the fey.

 I wanted a feudal setting, and I didn't want to deal with Romans as the ruling power in the West, so I settled upon the Dark Ages.  That way I could have monasteries and a fledgling Celtic church but not have a domineering Roman church power.

It came down to choosing an exact year.

I've been off work a few weeks now and I've been devouring as much Medieval history books and films as I can take--not for game purposes but because I love to study history. Mind you I'm not showing off and I claim no expertise in this area. I took some college history and history is my preferred reading and viewing material but I forget as much as I learn....still, I thought, a true medieval setting! Why not? There is certainly no lack of source material!

As I began to analyze what I was reading closely, though, and some previous romantic misconceptions started to fall away, I realized I had a dilemma.

 An Arthurian Britain, if one relied upon the earliest sources outside of Romantic literature, was a Britain not yet controlled by the Anglo Saxons...not England in any true sense, as I see it.

In the Middle Ages the tales of Arthur were made contemporary to the times and thoroughly Anglicized the ancient warlord, making his kingdom Christian and adorning his court with feudal trappings.

But if I wanted an Arthur who lived in the Dark Ages and was based on the earliest historical model, I would forced to begin my campaign around 500 AD.

Chivalric orders and the feudal knight and his accompanying hierarchy  would still be very far off in the future.

Out goes plate mail armor and the English longbow, away go the stone castles (aside form the old roman forts which were already in ruins), and, unless I am mistaken, the two handed sword.

Cities are run down affairs largely centered around Roman ruins, most people preferred country life, and education doesn't count for much in most areas. Feudalism existed but in a much less stratified form.

But if I instead chose to place my game in the Middle Ages, though, I feel that in such an atmosphere Celtic and German fairy tales become just that, fairy tales, instead of the real life supernatural forces the Dark Ages people believed them to be.

In the end I have decided to stick it out and go with Britain, 500 A.D. And so I have been forced to bone up on the cultures and languages of the Isles, some of the more famous British, Irish and Frankish kings. And while I originally wanted to go with the Dark Ages so I cold have a believable Camelot, it's looking like our game is going to have a decidedly Anglo-Saxon basis. It's going to wind up playing out more like Beowulf!

There is a lot of work in trying to flesh out a historical campaign--but then the whole thing becomes a learning process as well as a game and that can't be bad, at least for the DM.

As for the players, I'm going to focus on the mythological and fairy tale aspects of the setting for our game--the history will be incidental and actually irrelevant to the players since most people were illiterate and clannish then and more concerned with their own local ruler than anyone else.

I'm just going to tell them who their folk's enemies are, mention some of the more powerful warlords, and let them explore the wilderness areas just like I would in a D&D game but obviously my DM maps will be based upon the medieval atlas.

Still, any campaign requires work--as much time as I've spent pouring over fantasy maps and rules, if I put even half of that into historical study it can only be positive.

I have already decided though that if it does not work after four or five sessions, I am going back to a quasi-medieval fantasy milieu.

I hope it works, though!