Tuesday, January 31, 2012

D&D 5e: I finally speak

I've been mostly silent about the topic of D&D 5th edition, rarely chiming in even on G+. I've not talked about it at all in this blog. Like many (most?) people in our hobby I started out with D&D. For me it was AD&D when I was about 12 and I had absolutely no idea what the heck was going on. I didn't game again until my sister's boyfriend invited me over to play WEG Indiana Jones and I was hooked. My next experience with D&D was 3.0/3.5. I then burned out on fantasy rpgs for awhile.

You might liken it to a break-up with your significant other. First there's the bitterness and hatred "D&D sucks and is a horrible rpg. Especially 3.5!". Then there's apathy "Eh, I don't particularly care about D&D at all. They can do their thing I'll do mine". Finally there was rapproachment "I'm kind of digging this OSR thing. I think I can handle some old school D&D and I think I even like it."

Thus I've been following the news of 5e with some interest, because it could do a great deal to unite the various factions of D&D players. I was intrigued when they said that one of the goals was to allow players of any edition to take their character and play with 5e. That seemed like a tall goal to me, but I'm encouraged by this report from the D&D Experience by bspauls at dndfifthcolumn. Quoting his report of the event:

"First, the prototype of D&D Next absolutely captures the feel of classic D&D. Since I started with the Moldvay Basic Set in 1980, to me the game felt very much like Basic D&D–but there were elements which I knew would resonate with someone for whom 1e was the baseline. Talking with one of my traveling companions, who had played mostly 3.x, I found that he had gravitated to parts of the new system that evoked the feel of 3rd edition."

This is interesting to me. What it tells me that is that ether A.) the player's own preconceptions will fuel the game (something always true), or B.) the style of play will be determined by the DM/group. There were some things I like a lot about 4th edition, but I didn't care for the way it felt like so much of a tactical game to me. I like the earlier editions because of that feeling of not ever knowing what's going to come around the corner or if it's going to be too big for you to handle. I like 3.x because of the ability to customize your character. 

If 5e can provide the feel of all those editions at once it'll be a miraculous accomplishment.

Another juicy quote:

"And that, right there, is why I feel the current manifestation of D&D Next nails the feel of classic D&D. My friends and I were on the edge of our seats during the whole adventure. At no point did we feel like “we’ve got this in the bag,” but we didn’t feel like we were in over our heads, either–right up until the point where it all went pear-shaped. And when things did go south, no one felt that it was because the cards were stacked against us (that’s a figure of speech–I am unable to confirm or deny whether actual cards played any role in the playtest.) We could look back and see very clearly where we had gone wrong–and it was us, the players and our characters, not the rules or the DM.

Coming out of the B/X and 1e eras, this is really the essence of D&D for me. A skillful Dungeon Master offers the players a challenging scenario, with the potential for both serious consequences and significant reward. It is up to the players to decide when, where and how they tackle the challenge. If they succeed, it’s on to bigger and better things. If they fail, then they learn from their mistakes and perhaps take another crack at it on a different day. Either way, the fun of the game lies primarily in the story the players and the DM build together–not in whether the players prevail in any given situation."

Read the whole thing--it's well worth your time

Monday, January 30, 2012

Real Life megadungeon: Odessa catacombs

The catacombs of Rome are world-famous, and justly so. The Sedlec Ossuary is also very famous for it's thousands upon thousands of skeletons and bones. A lesser-known (and much neglected) series of catacombs can be found under the city of Odessa.

According to the font of all knowledge, the catacombs under Odessa total some 4,000 km stretching under the city and surrounding area of Odessa. The area has never been fully mapped (really it's barely been mapped at all). Apparently the first tunnels were built as a result of mining the soft limestone, then as tunnels were expanded they hooked into each other in a vast network that has housed everything from smugglers to Nazis (and apparently even housed a wine cellar at one point).

The tunnels are starting to become flooded, which adds an extra element of danger for your dungeoneering party. Not only do they have to navigate 4,000 km of territory (with whatever might lurk beneath), they now have to avoid flooded areas and sudden washouts.

Some pictures for inspiration:

The entrance

Some early rewards for the party:

Some interior glamour shots:

I wonder where the train goes . . .

And some bits of what's been mapped.

In a place as old as this there's no telling what you're going to find.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Random List: Magic Missile

So the magic missile is boring? Here are ten ways to describe the effects of the spell for your players so that don't roll their eyes when you say "you get hit with magic missile for 3 points of damage".

1.) smoky tendrils come from the hands and head fo ryou
2.) the wizard stands there and shoots black bars at you
3.) he opens his mouth and a stream of bees comes flying out 
4.) hundreds of spiders drop from the ceiling and come up from the cracks to bite
5.) he makes a gesture and the nearby _______ (fill in the blank with whatever material is handy) splinters, attacking with devastating force
6.) flame comes from his finger tips
7.) fluorescent green slime balls
8.) bursts of acid
9.) birds appear from nowhere and viciously peck
10.) streams of venom

The point is not to extol the virtues of magic missile but to get the brain thinking about different ways of describing things. An effective technique for a GM is to get the players to describe what they do in a way that's not boring. Instead of them saying "I throw a fireball", ask them to describe what they're doing, or do it for them. It can really help with the immersion.

As a GM, you'll want to keep your spells consistent with each wizard, or have your players up in arms. For example if they meet one wizard who casts magic missile and it comes in the shape of a stream of bees and then the next time it's 100s of tiny daggers, they'll think it's a different spell, and rightly so. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Magic Users and Spell Levels

One of the things I disliked about D&D 3.x was the fact that you had to level up to get the next coolest thing, especially if you were a magic user. I find that boring and tedious. If I'm a magic user I should have access to all the spells/powers available to me and not be restricted by some invisible barrier.

A consequence of this leveling up process is that a magic user at 10th level is really no different than a magic user at 1st level. The spells aren't harder to cast, they don't require more from the magic user, they simply do more damage. Accepting this as a basic premise, why not make all spells available at the start and then adjust how they work?

With that in mind here are some thoughts that I had about how to let magic users have access to everything at first level, but not make them overpowered, or boring because there's no challenge.

--change the damage done by a spell. As a magic user increases in power and knowledge his spells also increase. So he might start out as a d4, then move to a d6, then d8, d10, etc.

--change how many spells per day the magic user can do. Maybe at the beginning he can only do two spells per day and he's worn out and drained. Later on he can do four.

--increase the chance of failure at lower levels. If the casting of a spell had a difficulty of 15 normally, maybe a 1st level user could only cast it by hitting 18.

I also like the idea of a lower level magic user still being able to cast a higher level spell, just making it more difficult to do and more draining once it's been done. Similar to someone drawing on those last reserves of strength and will to accomplish things and get them done.

On G+ Ken Austin had a great solution for Pathfinder, where the magic user could take a feat of something like "Over Achieving Spellcaster". The magic user could cast a spell at any level, but would have to make a Fortitude save of 15 plus the spell level, plus the damage done by the spell or remain unconscious for the number of rounds equal to the damage done. This would allow a player to sacrifice himself for the good of the party in a grand heroic gesture.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

GM Questionnaire

Zak S of Playing D&D With Pornstars (one of the best role playing blogs on the internet--if you're not reading it you should be) asked some questions for GMs. Here are my responses.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
Either a were-centaur, or the Sword of Vegetation.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
A month and a half ago? Within the last two months anyway.

3. When was the last time you played?
Sometime in the last three months.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.
Shared city/country a la Thieves World with different GMs running the same characters in different campaigns. Either that or Toypocalypse meets Hollowpoint at the North Pole.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Review any notes I have or figure out what's going to happen next.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
Nothing really. I drink copious amounts of Mt. Dew though.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
Trying to use "Cast Light" as an offensive weapon by focusing it on someone's eyes.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
Neither. Mostly they play it the way I intended.
10. What do you do with goblins?
They're nasty and brutish with a low level cunning.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
The Mask of Manza Sha'et Based on a picture of a jade mask discovered at The Pyramid of the Sun temple in Mexico City.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?I was running a game of Hollowpoint. My players did the completely unexpected and neatly side stepped my deadly trap. It was so awesome it was funny. Before that the funniest were several moments during David Hill's Kicking Historical Asses (designed to give you the feel of playing in the world of Army of Darkness) that were genuinely laugh out loud funny, including one during character creation when we realized that the two members of the party were a tall, skinny black guy who likes to go to SCA events on the weekend is paired up with the auto work he just laid off who is a biker guy with a shaved head, tribal tattoos, a love of karaoke, and the words "Peace" and "Love" tattooed on the knuckles of his hands.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?
7th Sea GM guide. I was looking up the rules for Mass Combat to make sure I remembered them right when explaining them to someone else.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
I don't have one. It really depends on the game, because some illustrators are great for some subjects and not for others.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
I never tried to make them afraid.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)
I've never run an adventure I didn't come up with on my own.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
Large table, lots of room for books, pens, dice, etc. Decent light, but not too bright. The most memorable game I've ever played was D&D 3.5 around a campfire.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
7th Sea and the various OSR clones. In 7th Sea you play swashbuckling heroes who can take on dozens of bad guys and not get touched. In the various OSR clones your character could easily die in the first session if things go wrong. On the other hand they are more alike than they would first seem, because they're both about going out and adventuring.

My other answer would be Vornheim and Argyle and Crew, because how much more disparate can you get than a somewhat gonzo, very weird, fantasy city and an rpg about sock puppets? Then I realized that one of the reasons I like both of them is that they're both part of the indie movement in rpg publishing and both do a great job of it.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
Fantasy novels and historical events. I love to read just about anything and I have a deep and abiding passion for history. One of my favorite things to do is take ideas from a book I've read and implement them in a game (my first GM session ever was based on a Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser short story). I also like taking historical things and asking "what if".

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
Someone willing to put themselves into the game. I don't want to be out there trying to coax the player along (and I'm not talking about helping a new player get adjusted). I also want players who are willing to think outside the box when coming up with solutions to problems.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?
I don't think I've ever had a real life experience that I've consequently used in a game. The closest I've come is when I mis-heard something on a podcast and then created a magic item around it. Someone said something about "all sorts of vegetation" and I misheard that as "A sword of vegetation".

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?
An equivalent to Vornheim but for wilderness adventures.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?
My wife. At first she just gave me that look that said "I have no idea what you're saying but I'll listen." Lately she's actually participated more and even lurked at some G+ Hangouts where we did some gaming. She's expressed some interest in actually playing. I'm amused that the first rpg book she ever looked at was Vornheim.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Last week I drew up a map at working using the technique from Zak Smith's Vornheim (quite possibly the best city supplement I've ever read).

Here's the first version of the map.

After some cleaning up and colorization and such here's the current version. It still needs a great deal of work to get where I want it to be. My plan is to do a smaller map of each of the various districts and neighborhoods. I'd also like to have floor plans of a few of the major sites in each district. For example, The Flying Pony's floorplan is already done and the notorious inn is strategically situated at the intersection of three of the major roads in the city.

Each district will have a name and function, though what those will be I've yet to determine. I have the name of the bay, which is called "The Claw", or sometimes simply "Claw". 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wandering Minstrel Table

A random list for you. 

*Wandering Minstrel Table (roll a d12)*

Roll a d12 on each list and then combine the results. Or mix and match. Really you can do whatever you'd like with it. 

1.) Silver lute
2.) Wooden flute (think Native American)
3.) Pan pipes
4.) Guitar
5.) Wooden Harp
6.) Mandolin
7.) Drums
8.) Violin
10.) Silver flute
11.) Small silver harp
12.) Sackbut (feel bad for this one)

1.) Finely dressed in bright colors
2.) Fat and shabbily dressed in dull colors
3.) Extremely tall
4.) Wears an extremely brightly colored cloak
5.) Clown shoes
6.) Statuesque woman
7.) Tiny woman
8.) Wears drab colors in shades of brown and gray
9.) Lots of jewelry
10.) Funny hat
11.) Scruffy beard
12.) Missing a finger

Musical style
1.) Love songs sung ironically
2.) Martial tunes
3.) Bawdy ballads
4.) Lovelorn songs
5.) Religious hymns
6.) Popular dance music (but played a dirge-like pace)
7.) Dirges and other funeral music
8.) Popular dance music
9.) Everything
10.) Lullabies
11.) Wedding songs
12.) Anthems (these are religious anthems as used in the Baroque period and brought to perfection by Handel in his Chandos Anthems)

Magical R

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Class: Necromantic Investigator

This idea originally started out as a question about how to make clerics more interesting, then became more involved as time went on. The idea is to make necromancy something that's not evil. It seems that in every fantasy rpg necromancy is something that's inherently evil. This is understandable if we go with the premise that a necromancer causes death or gains power through causing death.

What if a necromancer was something different? Here are some ideas that I've fleshed out. This is still very nebulous, but I'd actually like to develop this into an actual class, I'm just not sure for what system yet. (The system will be difficult for me to choose since I tend to be very system agnostic and would like this blog to be system/setting neutral)

Necromantic Investigator

Job Description
--investigates death. This could be anything from raising the spirits of the dead to answer questions or simply "reading" the bones of the dead person to see their last moments of life

--solve family disputes. The kids are arguing over who gets to keep what from the estate because Grandpa Bob didn't leave a will? Call in a Necromancer to raise Uncle Bob's spirit and ask some questions.

--my thinking is that a necromantic investigator would really be a sub-class of necromancy. This would be all that they do, with no other necromantic powers except communicating with the dead. Can they communicate or speak with ghosts or other types of spirits, or is this a gift that has to be focused? If it's the latter how is it limited? Through training/lack of talent? Magical item that grants the power?

--what kind of laws are there that prevent a necromantic investigator from going into private practice? Are there any?

--I could see them becoming quite valuable as a part of society. If a murderer will always be found out will that decrease the level of violent crime, or will that simply cause violent people to hide the evidence more thoroughly?

--How much of a person's remains would there need to be in order for anything to be learned? Maybe that changes based on a necromancer's skill level?

--I could see a necromantic investigator developing an "affinity" for other violent crimes as well. A skilled necromancer might be able to sense when someone was beaten or raped or something else?

--If a necromantic investigator has that much contact with death, and can presumably lay the dead back down again, can that power to lay the dead down be used on the living? In other words, could they cast a death curse if needed?

--how much power do the necromantic investigators have? Are they the sole arbitrators of death cases, so that the rich and powerful are not immune? If so how are they kept in check so that they don't abuse the power?

Of course the uniform is important.

--since it's necromancy it has to be black. Black boots with silver trim. Black pants with silver belt. White shirt with blood red trim. Black cloak, with the inside being deep, dark red (almost maroon). The necromancer symbol in dark red stamped on the sides of the boots, woven into the hip at the pants, used as a belt buckle for the belt, sewn in read thread on the right breast of the shirt, and used as clasp for the cloak (with red stitching on the back of the cloak with a large symbol).

--the symbol of the necromantic class is a scale with a skull resting on one of the balances and a pile of bones on the other.

Other Necromancy
In a society where necromancy was used for investigation I could see some other things being affected as well.

--a cleric who practices necromancy as a way to "help" or "guide" a restless soul to their final destination.
   --In this case I could see the necromancer needing some sort of "payment" from the dead soul. Maybe a
      future favor or piece of information. A necromancer who's been at it for awhile could become incredibly
--a cleric who practices necromancy to help bring closure to the living. Maybe a loved one didn't get to say goodbye and the cleric is there to provide that opportunity
--a necromantic battle cleric who's there to ease the death of those mortally wounded.
--maybe in such a society raising the undead to perform menial labor is seen as the morally right thing to do. After all, why should the living be forced to build that great monument when the dead don't care?
--I could also see such a society allowing anyone with the cash and proper permits to be able to "hire" undead to do the low level tasks that the rest of society doesn't want to do. Of course the relatives of the undead must be contacted and permission given/bought, but that can sometimes be hard to do . . .

I guess it's not so nebulous after all. However I still have no thoughts about what kind of spells/powers are available at the various levels, or if I even want to do it that way.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Stats (1/15/2012)

I skipped last week's Sunday Stats because I'd barely posted during that week. I did slightly better this week, but not all that much.

Brand new year, brand new stats. I skipped last week's stats because I basically had gone a week without writing a post.

Previous Reports
January 1, 2012
December 18, 2011
December 11, 2011

General Stuff
The first post on this blog was November 27, 2011 (Creating NPC's with depth). This is post number 30. I'm still maintaining my posting average of one every other day. However I'm still having the problem where my posting is not as consistent as I'd like. At the time of this writing I have 1461 page views, 406 more than my last report. That's about 200 a week.  My actual play report of  Hollowpoint continues to be my most visited post by a rather large margin (it would probably decrease a bit if I didn't keep on posting a link to it in these updates). Some competition seems to be emerging though, as my post Things From the Inn: Fun With Random Tables is starting to make some inroads. It's been at number 2 for quite some time.

Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?

The international scope of my visitors log continues to surprise me. The United States and the UK continue to be the countries sending the most page views my way. Uruguay! is creeping up the list and may end up overtaking the UK.

The past week's visitor logs have shown visitors from Belarus, as well as the Philippines.

Firefox remains the most popular browser (37% to 32%), while Windows remains easily the most popular operating system (69%), with Mac a very distant second (13%).

What Are You Thinking?
and the blue sky lit with deep
dungeon curse (I'm rather pleased with this searcher)
there was a hill that ate people
the dungeon of eternal doom (sounds like a great name for someone's FlaiSnails campaign)

Being a Better GM part 4: Names

As a GM coming up with names has always been the toughest part of running an adventure. I always feel like my NPC names are boring, or I sit and stare at my magic object and can't figure out what to name it. Here are a few quick and dirty tips to easy naming.

1.) Check your email spam filters. You can get some good names that way. From my spam filter here are some names I'd use for an NPC.

Esmerelda Odo
Libbey Newsome
Rick Eden
Shal Nelida
Shay Johnson
Rey Goodlatte
David DeSimone
Chris Duncan

2.) Name generators and naming sites. Here are a few good ones that I use.

Behind the Name. I like this one because you can choose the nationality of the name you want to use as well as the sex. It's got a pretty good database of names and it has a meaning for each name as well.

Kate Monk's Onomastikon This site breaks names up by civilization and region of the world. Some of the links are broken on the site, but it's still an interesting read (even if the design is hard on the eyes).

Wizard's Community List of Names This one is put together by the users at the Wizard's forums. It's separated by first and last name and tends to be more fantasy themed.

List of Random Names This one is great because you can choose between several options before submitting your request.

Fake Name Generator I love this one because you can choose everything from sex to nationality and it will give you an entirely pre-generated history for the person down to a fake email address and website.

3.) Things
I find that it's pretty easy for me to come up with magical items. I look at something and then say "what if?" until I get it figured out. Naming is quite another thing. There are a couple of tricks that I like to use though.

I like to use Google Translator to come up with a name for something.  Let's say we have a magic item that will blast fire when a command word is spoken. Take the meaning of the word and translate it into another language. Putting "fire shooter" into the translator and selecting something like Welsh you end up with saethwr Tân. The next step is to switch up a few letters or take them out. The final product is the wand of the ancient wizard Saewr Tan, who loved fire. 

The Forge Fantasy Name Generator This is geared more towards fantasy play, but it's a name generator that does more than people names. You can also get a random name for animals, lands, spells, and magic items. It can be very useful.

Online Etymology Dictionary Use this one the same way you'd use Google Translate. Plug in the meaning of the word and see the history of it and choose something from the list. Plugging "fire shooter" into the OED generates several diverse results, but I ended up liking the word agnih (from the Sanskrit for igneous, aka firey) and the word heorð (from the Old English for hearth). This gives us the name Heoran for either the name of the wizard or the wand itself. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Year, New Game

The fine folks over at Gnome Stew have issued a challenge to every GM out there. Rather than try to paraphrase it, I thought that I'd quote them:

New Year, New Game (NYNG for short) is a new Gnome Stew venture — an annual challenge to GMs all over the world: Run a new game this year.
New Year, New Game is an idea that we hope will catch on with gamers all over the world, much like GM’s Day did (it’s celebrated on March 4th every year). It has a simple mission:

To inspire game masters to run at least one new game each year, because trying new games broadens your horizons, challenges your skills as a GM, and can deepen your enjoyment of gaming as a hobby.

There's a website set up, called appropriately enough New Year, New Game.  I've decided to take them up on this challenge.

I'd like to add a secondary challenge to the New Year, New Game challenge. If you've never run a game before, why not make this the year that you take the plunge?

Here's my entry on why I'm going to run Jeremy Keller's Technoir.

There's nothing angelic about life in the City of Angels. If you're wealthy or powerful (and really, aren't the two the same?), you have access to all the good things in life. If you're part of the rest of the 99%, life is a daily grind as you try to avoid the people that you owe favors or money too, while collecting the money and favors owed to you.

There are huge technological advancements and for a few Kreds you can have just about any kind of tech implanted into your body. It's getting those Kreds that's the problem. You have to borrow money to finance the jobs you take to get more money. You end up giving promises to nasty people and one day they'll be called in. That "one day" is not today, and thankfully you're owed a few favors of your own, and if you can call them in at the right time you might just be able to break even or pull ahead with this next job.

Only now you're in way over your head. The job turned out to be not nearly as straight forward as you thought it would be. You don't know where to turn, and you can't trust your contacts. The only way to get any information is to start shaking the tree and see what falls out.

+Jeremy Keller's Technoir is a cyberpunk game that's designed around the noir genre. The singular characteristic about a noir hero is that she's not afraid to get beaten up, if it will get her the information she needs. She's may not be the smartest, or the richest, or the most well-connected, or the prettiest, but what she has in spades is grit and determination. Once on the trail she'll never give up until she's figured out what's going on.

There are several things that excite me about Technoir. First is that it's cyberpunk. I love the cyberpunk genre . Some of my fondest gaming memories are of playing Shadowrun. Secondly I love that it's noir. The noir style of film and book is awesome. I love the whole concept of noir, which is that a person is in way over their head, whether of their own doing or because of forces beyond their control who are trying to set them up. I love that noir heroes aren't the brightest, or smartest, prettiest, or richest, but what they've got is an intractable will and no fear of bodily harm. The primary strategy of a noir detective is to go shake a tree and see what happens. No Sherlock Holmesian investigations here.

I also love the system that Jeremy Keller came up with, which is designed to reward players who get their characters hurt. I also love that the system is built around describing things.

Challenges in running this? There are more than a few. First, it's a new game. That means most people will not have even heard of the game, much less played it. Second is my work schedule, which makes it difficult for me to participate in games via G+. Currently I have no meatspace gaming group, and even if I manage to get my group back together I'll probably be running something like Earthdawn or 7th Sea with them, because they're not the most adventurous of gamers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ten Magic Rings

Roll a d10 (or just pick one).

1.) Plain gold men's ring.
Beggar Knight's Banquet. Wear it when preparing a meal and it will taste deliciously, no matter how poor the ingredients. Easy enough to find out though, it should taste of basil and thyme. I suggest you wash it before tasting however, who knows where it has been.

2.) Large man's ring with a ruby in it (looks like a signet ring, only there's no seal)
Arcane Signet Ring, the seal can only be seen by those able to see magic. It is a common ring for wizards to keep around

3.) Women's gold ring with a small pearl
Demeter's Sigh. Has the power to acellerate the growth of any plant to full fruition overnight.

4.) Stone ring with a pair of ravens etched into it (one on the outside, the other on the inside)
The Lost Eye. It grants a plus to your wisdom, but you lose the sight in your right eye while wearing it.

5.) A woman's bracelet/ring combo. It's three rings, connected by fine silver chain to each other and also to a bracelet. The rings go over the ring finger, the middle finger, and the index finger. Jewels in order appear to be jade, onyx, and diamond.

Soulcaster. When the wearer touches the jade stone followed by the onyx and diamond, she will be able to view any ghosts or other spirits who are around. When she touches the onyx, and then the diamond and then the jade, she will be able to help those souls leave the world and move on to their final resting spot. When she touches all three at once she will be able to disassociate herself from her body and travel the world as if she were a ghost.

6.) A man's silver ring with a fox etched into it.
Huli-jing Snare. Don't put it on, or you'll release the fox spirit contained in it and be trapped yourself.

7.) A man's gold ring with etched knotwork

8.) A woman's ring with etched knotwork. It appears to be a matching set with the man's ring.
#7 and 8 are a pair of Lovers' Quarrels. Highly specialized, the rings require two people who are wed and are also using ranged weapons. As long as the pair wear the rings and remain within hearing distance of each other, their ranged weapons will not run out of ammunition.

9.) A ring made of fur or hair woven together in a complicated braid. In the center is a large emerald.
Promise of Youth The ring grants a plus to your con and a minus to your wisdom. Once put on, it does not come off until the fibers wear through, at which point it becomes disenchanted.

10.) Another braided ring, only this one is made of three strands of finely beaten gold strands.
Protection Ring. Grants a bonus to the wearer's armor.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year's Resolutions: Gaming Goals for 2012

I originally posted this to G+, but I'd like to have it in a more permanent place.

1.) Actually finish an idea that I have. I have serious issues with completing projects--I come up with a cool idea and then let it wilt. I work much better collaborating with someone else in an editorial/brainstorming type of way.

2.) Finally force my old gaming group to get back together and start gaming again. They've all said "Yeah, that sounds great," and then I tell them "Your schedules are the ones that are weird, not mine, so contact me." Of course they never do. Failing that I'll get a new group started.

3.) Get involved in a long term campaign via G+ Hangouts as a player.

4.) Do a blog entry every other day. I've been averaging one every other day but it tends to be 5 in a row, 3 or 4 days off, 5 days in a row.

5.) Put my money where my mouth is and help fund a Kickstarter/IndieGoGo project each month (at whatever level I can afford to do, whether it's $5 or $50).

6.) Play at least 6 new games.

7.) I have a hard drive full of rpg pdfs. It's time to actually start reading and stop collecting.

8.) Convince my wife to play a board game that isn't Scrabble.

9.) Expand my dice collection by purchasing a set of Hollowpoint d6s from +Abraham Neddermann

10.) Convince +Abraham Neddermann to finally get a 7th Sea set of d10s created. :-)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Real Geomorphs: Marble Cave MO and Wind Cave, SD

Two geomorphs for you today, both of them a bit unusual in my opinion.

The first is that of Wind Cave from western South Dakota. This one is unusual and that there are over 135 miles of mapped and explored caves in the system, making it one of the longest in the world. It sits beneath the largest natural grass prairie in the United States.

The second is Marble Cave, located in Missouri. This one is unique because these drawings were done in the late 1800s and there's a book about the cave available via the Gutenberg project.

Longitudinal and Cross-Sections of Passages in Marble Cave, Stone Co., Missouri. Plotted by Fred Prince, 1894.

Geomorph done in 1894 by Fred Prince

The Surveyed Portions of Marble Cave, Stone County, Missouri. Surveyed and Plotted by Fred Prince, 1894. Scale of 100 feet.

I think this next map is particularly evocative simply because it shows the massive amount of space in the Wind Cave system in South Dakota.

This one isn't so evocative but is perhaps more useful as a regular survey/map of the Wind Cave system in South Dakota. 


Friday, January 6, 2012

The Flying Pony floor plans

Way back in November I wrote a post called Tales From the Inn. It was based on three separate random lists that were relating to an inn. I posted three elements to G+ and got some great feedback as to what might be happening.

I then asked Matt Jackson of Lapsus Calumni to draw me up a floor plan since he was doing a series of maps in his new moleskine. This is the fantastic result.

Matt posts a new map nearly every day, sometimes twice a day and they're all great. If you're ever needing a random map for your campaign I suggest stopping by his place and checking his work out.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ta Prohm, Cambodia and Copan, Honduras: Perfect Megadungeons

I've often talked (preached?) about how much inspiration I get from simply looking at existing things in the world and then twisting them to my own purposes. There is such a huge amount of variety in architecture, religion, ceremonies, art, etc. throughout the history of the world that the well of inspiration should never run dry. 

As such I present the temple of Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is one of the most famous architectural wonders in the world. It sees some 5,000 visitors per day, which is hardly surprising given the incredible buildings and temples that are there.

Ta Prohm was built in the late 1100s and early 1200s, and has stood since then, though if you search the Google images for the temple you can see the vines and forest creeping and overtaking the temple. 

The temple of Ta Prohm is one of these. My guess is that almost everybody has seen this photo, or one like it, even if they don't know where it's from. 

Check out redswept's Ta Prohm gallery for some more great pictures.

How could you not see that image and not be immediately inspired? The mystery of what might lie within those doors pulls at me and I want to find out.

Heading to the other side of the world I give you the artistic aesthetics of the Maya. Every time I look at them I think to myself how perfect they would be for any kind of game with horror themes, or any kind of weird fantasy type of campaign.

There's an incredible temple in Honduras that was built by the Maya around 500 A.D. At it's peak there were some 20,000 people living there. A couple of things that make this complex unique. The first is that the main temple is actually two temples. There's the temple of the original ruler and his wife. Unlike other cultures which would build a separate temple nearby, or perhaps tear down the stones of the old temple for use in the new one (the Egyptians did that all the time for example), the Maya at Copan built a temple around the original temple. Basically it's a temple inside the temple. 

The other incredible feature of this temple is that the steps of the temple are inlaid with glyphs from the bottom to the top. These glyphs tell the history of the rulers. There are some 2200 glyphs and the represent the most complete collection of Mayan text known.

The third thing that makes Copan unique are the literally hundreds of stele scattered throughout that are carved with all sorts of fantastical images. 

I find the idea of a temple within a temple to be incredibly cool. I also love the idea that the entire history of the city is carved into the steps of the temple. 

The other thing I find fascinating about this place are the weird creatures and faces carved into the stele that are scattered throughout the complex. Some examples:

How can you not be inspired by this kind of thing?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What I want from magic

Inspired by several lengthy debates on G+.

What I want from magic.

Magic Is Part of Me
In my ideal magic system, magic is an inherent part of the person wielding it. It's an attribute just like Strength, or Intelligence, or Speed. You can increase it by working out, you can learn ways to maximize your inherent abilities, but you're not going to go much beyond what your natural limits are unless you have help. It's part of someone's DNA basically.

Magic performs as part of a set of "natural" laws. The magic user might not know all of those laws, the reader might not know all of them, but they exist.

The first manifestation of the user's magic is almost invariably by accident. Something happens that the magic user can't explain or control. After further training and guidance they are able to learn how to control the maic.

The Wheel of Time, and The Wise Man's fear are both great examples of this.

Behavior isn't important
I don't really care how the magic acts. Flavor isn't important to me, as long as it fits the setting. The strange and mysterious magic of The Lord of the Rings is as exciting to me as the not so mysterious magic of The Wheel of Time.

Magic Has a Cost
Magic is dangerous. It should be treated with respect. Either you can go mad from the wielding of too much magic, or it can burn you out completely (e.g. Wheel of Time). When you've used magic you should be exhausted both mentally and physically. I wouldn't expect someone to run a marathon without needing extensive rest, they shouldn't be able to wield magic without doing the same.

Magic is Rare
Magic users are a rare breed. In my perfect world a person who can use magic is less than 5% of the population and someone who's actually powerful at it is less than 1% of the population. This brings along it's own set of consequences for the magic user.

Magic isn't Boring
I don't particularly care if magic items are rare or not. I do care that they're not boring. They should be useful, and they should have interesting histories. Sting isn't a great blade because it's a +2 sword with a +3 against it's chosen enemy orcs (as well as detection). Sting is interesting because of the history of the blade and how it's used. All magic items should be this way.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Magic Item: The Mask of Manza Sha'et

Magic Item: The Mask of Manza Sha'et

The sun was setting. It was time to begin the ceremony which must be completed before midnight. Tonight was the winter solstice, the time when the earth was reborn and renewed for another year. All willing tonight would also be the rebirth of his beloved. Carefully picking up the jade mask that had been constructed specially for this night Sha'et put it on, using the leather straps. Raising his arms he began to chant . . .

Manza Sha'et was a sorcerer of the ancient arts. When his wife died he slowly became consumed with the idea that he could bring her back from the dead. It did not work, and he was only able to raise her spirit.

This magic item is in the shape of a delicately crafted jade mask. When used properly it can communicate with the recently deceased (those who have been dead one year or less). To activate, the user puts the mask on and simply murmurs the name of the person with whom they wish to speak. If they do not know the name of the person they can use it by touching a body part from the deceased.

If the wearer isn't a trained necromancer, the mask will fail one out of every four times. Roll a d100 and if the result is a 25 or less it doesn't work.

The dead are not part of this world, so they can not stay long. Roll 1d10 to determine how many minutes you can speak with them. The dead are not concerned with earthly things, so communication can be tough and hard to understand.

As a result the player can choose to sacrifice 10% of their remaining hit points (or 1, whichever is greater, always round up) to extend the time by one minute. Alternatively they can expand the same amount of hit points to seek to gain some understanding of what was said, if the advice given was too cryptic.

Regardless the mask will demand a payment of 10% of a player's hit points. Using magic is difficult. Using death magic is even more difficult and can potentially be deadly.

Sunday Stats, Week 3 (January 1, 2012)

Brand new year, brand new stats. I skipped last week's stats because I basically had gone a week without writing a post.

Previous Reports
Week 2--December 18, 2011
Week 1--December 11, 2011

General Stuff
The first post on this blog was November 27, 2011 (Creating NPC's with depth). This is post number 19. That's just one every other day, which is at least the pace I'd like to maintain, though I'd like to be more consistent with the updates. As of this post I've had 1055 page views, 264 more than the last update. My all time most popular post continues to be my review and actual play report of Hollowpoint (by a rather significant amount actually).

Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?

The international scope of my visitors log continues to surprise me. The list of the top countries is the same, though there has been a bit of shakeup outside the top two.

United States--659
United Kingdom--62

This week's visitor log

United States--117
United Kingdom--6

Last report Japan, France, and Mexico were all new. Now I've got Taiwan added to that list.

There's been a big upset in the stats for the blog--Firefox has now supplanted Chrome as the most used browser (37% to 33%), while Windows remains easily the most popular operating system (70%), with Mac a very distant second (13%).

What Are You Thinking?
fairytale forest wanderers--3 (someone used this search and stayed for 3 blog posts. I think I'll take that as a compliment)
"steven r boyett"--2

hollowpoint actual play--1
urban fantasy book review--1