Wednesday 28 March 2012

Alphabetical dropout

Aaah so April is just around the corner, and I said I was going to participate in the A to Z blogging challenge. Several factors are now making this look less likely. Firstly, what I want to write seems like it'll be quite a lot of work, probably too much for a post a day, realistically. Secondly, work is continuing on Theorems & Thaumaturgy, and I want to be able to focus on that over the coming month. And lastly, spring is happening and I notice that my desire to sit inside at the weekend writing has lessened!

So, I guess my April A - Z challenge won't occur as intended. I'll still write the proposed material, as it's something I want to do anyway for my campaign, and I'll probably still stick to the alphabetical format, as I like the end result of having an A to Z guide on a topic. But I guess it'll end up being more of an April / May / June A to Z challenge for me... I'll just post things gradually as I have time. :)

Monday 26 March 2012

Theorems & Thaumaturgy progress

I've been a bit quiet here the last couple of weeks, not for any particular reason, just that nothing really blog-worthy has entered my mind or occurred in our LL games.

However I thought I'd break the silence with a small progress report on my upcoming book of magic for Labyrinth Lord.

The first round of proofreading is now complete (thanks all who helped out!), and the text of the book is now going into the final stages. Bob of Back to the Keep has very kindly offered to act as editor, and has been doing a sterling job of whipping my meandering prose into shape ;) Meanwhile several artists are working away to get everything looking pretty. The wonderful Cadanse D just sent me a draft for the book's cover recently. I won't show it off here, preferring to leave it as a surprise when it's ready, but it's going to be a awesome!

A stroke of inspiration hit me this morning as I was looking at my AD&D 2e player's handbook -- I had the idea of releasing Theorems & Thaumaturgy in two versions: one with the spells in the "modern" A - Z order, and one in the "traditional" 1st - 9th level order. I still find that I'm more comfortable with the latter, even though the Labyrinth Lord books follow the D&D 3e inspired alphabetical ordering. Does anyone else have a preference? I guess it will mostly come down to how much work it will be to do the layout twice!

As a final glimpse into the book's progress, here's the table of contents for your perusal:

Introduction 3
Section One – New Classes 5
Elementalist 5
Necromancer 11
Vivimancer 22
Section Two – Variant Classes 33
Fey Elf 33
Illusionist 36
Section Three – Tomes 41
The Book of Deceptions 41
The Book of Figurines and Puppets 42
The Book of Meta-Magic 43
The Book of Pranks 44
The Chronomancer's Workbook 45
The Dimensional Treatise 46
The Libram of Chaos 48
The Prism Codex 50
The Tome of Infernal Power 51
The Tome of Ooze and Slime 52
The Tome of the Spider Mage 53
Appendices 56
I. Optional Rules for Magic-Users 56
II. New Monsters 57
III. New Magic Items 62
Alphabetical Index of Spells 65
Open Game License 71

Wednesday 14 March 2012

One Page Dungeon Contest 2012!

Rules etc here.

I'm hoping to enter this year, if I can get my act together!

Saturday 10 March 2012

Clerics & cosmic powers in Old Aalia

When I was initially thinking about running a Labyrinth Lord campaign, in around December 2010, one of the original conceptions which I wanted to include in the game world was that of "petty gods". (Actually I was originally thinking I'd use the book of that name as the list of deities in the world. I had to come up with my own in the mean time ;)

The concept was that the entities which people name "gods" are highly localised, in no way omniscient or omnipotent, generally alien or non-benign, and that while they may be immortal and may command miraculous magical powers, they are not the kind of beings which can grant the powers which a standard D&D cleric wields. There may be an entity which can bestow gifts of healing, curing diseases, or even raising the dead, but that same entity will have no ability to grant blessings in battle, create light or food or water, detect evil or magic, and so on. In that context the cleric class, with its grab-bag of miraculous biblical abilities, makes no sense whatsoever. So at the dawn of my imagined world it was clear that there would be no clerical adventurers.

Since that original conception it's been a long road of back and forth where clerics are concerned. When the first characters were rolled up I made it clear: the cleric class is out -- you can worship cosmic entities, but there's no concept of a priestly adventuring class. Then for a time I allowed clerics, initially due to not being able to think of a decent way of handling PC healing in the absence of the class. Recently it became once again clear to me however (after there having been two major cleric PCs in the campaign) that the class still really didn't make sense in the setting, that it was preventing me from properly portraying the world I had imagined*, and that I should have stuck with my original feeling -- the clerics had to go!

Now I would never be so dictatorial as to tell a player "your class doesn't exist any more so your character will have to change or retire". I told the cleric's player that his character would not be affected by any changes I might decree, even if it made him the "last of his kind".

However as fate would have it (and it really was fate, lest I be accused of deliberate PCicide!), the party's cleric died a horrible death last session, so the coast is now clear, so to speak. Old Aalia is free of clerics once more!

Now, I realised, I just have to give the players some nice details about what these petty gods of their world are like, and, in the absence of clerics, what they can do for adventurers. I'm going to be using the impetus of the April A-Z challenge to produce a bulk of material to this end. I've also written a short introduction to this topic, which you can read below.

* Pretentious DM-speak, I know :) But when one puts in so much effort to run a weekly game, things like this are important (they are to me anyway)... I want there to be some kind of integrity to the imagined world in which the games are set.

About Cosmic Powers
Commonly given titles such as “gods”, “demon lords”, “arch-devils”, “elemental princes”, “lords of nature”, “animal kings”, “saints” and so on, a vast number of cosmic powers have influence in the world. (When describing these entities and the influence they have, the word “cosmic” is used to imply a connection to vast and fathomless dimensions beyond mortal comprehension. Some cosmic energies also do indeed originate in outer space, but the majority have a terrestrial root.)

The total count of cosmic powers which are worshipped or known to have influence in the world is, despite extensive study, unknown. It certainly reaches into hundreds of thousands. Every known nation of men has many dozens of gods whom it appeases. Every race of demi-humans has its cosmic masters. Great cities are often home to thousands of shrines to different cosmic entities. Powers of limited local influence are venerated in towns, villages and wayside shrines throughout the world. It is thus that even the most favoured of gods in one nation may be completely unheard of in the next.

The variety of nature of cosmic powers is also vast, ranging from cruel and bloodthirsty to abstract and aloof, from benevolent and magnanimous to alien and unfathomable. They typically have an extremely specific and narrow area of interest and dominion, and their range of influence in the mortal world is often very localised, being centred around a location or series of locations in the physical world.

In many places where such beings are found, mortals gather to worship or appease them. Thus, shrines, temples and oracles abound, along with the attendant ranks of priests, cultists and devotees. Such worship takes many forms, as the whims and desires of cosmic powers are many. Some powers are adored for the miraculous blessings they can bestow upon their followers. Others are worshipped rather out of fear of their wrath.

At locations on Earth where only a single cosmic power has influence, this entity is typically worshipped universally by the inhabitants of that region – an example of such a place is the town of Holt, to the south of Harln, where a single cosmic power known as “Vardilli, the spinning god” has dominion. On the other hand, in places – such as the great city of S'raka – where there exist a multitude of cosmic powers, mortals commonly make offerings to a large number of these beings throughout their lifetimes. However in either case, those who devote themselves loyally to a single cosmic power are often promised a great reward upon death – a special paradise being set aside for the faithful.

Those of a less devoted outlook still find dealings with cosmic powers to be beneficial, on occasion. The miraculous energies which emanate from these entities are often sought out, and are, as is the way of things, equally often monopolized by the surrounding priests and cults. Thus, many shrines and temples, especially those found in larger settlements, offer a variety of miraculous services for a price. These services usually take the form of some kind of ritual, wherein members of the priesthood perform certain sacred rites in order to bring forth the power of their cosmic master for the benefit of the paying customer. The price demanded varies greatly, based on the nature, magnitude and rarity of the effects of the ritual. Commonly the price is a simple sum of gold or silver given to support the temple and the priesthood, but some cults may have other demands in addition to or instead of money.

Rituals bring about one-off magical happenings with immediate effect. Rituals of curing, raising the dead and removing curses are some possibilities which are commonly sought by adventurers.

An alternative form of boon can be granted by many cosmic powers – a blessing which has no immediate effect, but which can be called upon at some later date. Again the means of payment and the process involved may vary depending on the whims of the cosmic power involved, or those of its priesthood. Examples of some common blessings which may be of benefit to adventurers are blessings of curing, detection of enemies, success in battle or protection from harm – all to be activated when needed.

Due to some cosmic law which is not fully understood, each person can receive only a single blessing at any one time, which lasts until it is called upon. If a second blessing is sought, it will simply have the effect of nullifying and replacing the previous.

Monday 5 March 2012

Fiend Folio = monsters & deities, Unearthed Arcana = spells?

Inspired by Chris' post over at the Vaults of Nagoh about the idea of running a campaign using the AD&D Fiend Folia as the sole source of monsters, and Jeff's post about using the deities in that book as the only deities in a campaign, my thoughts turned suddenly to Unearthed Arcana. Could one run a campaign using only the Fiend Folio and Unearthed Arcana?

My answer quickly developed into a "no". Well, of course one could, but I wouldn't want to. Depending how strictly you were to follow the law of only using that one book, the only character classes available would be the cavalier and the barbarian!

However, I did have a look at the spells section, and thought it'd be rather cool to run an "alternative D&D" game where the spells in that book were the only ones in existence. I surmised that it'd probably make sense to combine the magic-user and illusionist spell lists, as both (and especially the latter) would be rather sparse on their own.

The combined list of spells in Unearthed Arcana produces a patchy list, skewed heavily towards spells of charm, illusion, abjuration and binding. Very different then to the standard AD&D spell list, which is largely focussed on invocation and alteration. I think that would make a very interesting list to play with though, forcing players and DM alike to look at some of the more obscure and less popular spells in a new light! It also lacks what are normally considered to be some fundamentals of arcane magic, like means of detecting and dispelling magic.

Here are the combined lists (with illusion spells in italics).

1st level
Chromatic orb
Phantom armor 
Read illusionist magic
Wizard mark

1. There's apparently no need for the spell read magic, except for spells of illusion. Perhaps they're written in some semi-phantasmagorical script which is impossible to read normally?
2. With no sleep or charm person, firewater is about as close as it gets to a killer 1st level spell!
3. Given the lack of power in these 1st level spells, I'd probably allow beginning magic-users to memorize two at a time. The extensive list of cantrips would probably see some use as well.

2nd level
Alter self 
Flaming sphere
Know alignment
Melf's acid arrow
Protection from cantrips
Tasha's uncontrollable hideous laughter
Whispering wind

1. A few more useful spells here, including a bit more offensive capability.

3rd level
Detect illusion
Melf's minute meteors
Phantom steed
Phantom wind
Secret page
Sepia snake sigil
Wind wall

1. With no means whatsoever in the whole spell list of detecting magic in general, here we get a limited means of detecting spells of one specific type, illusions.
2. Without the introduction of fireball or lightning bolt, 3rd level spells are not the tipping point we're used to.

4th level
Dispel illusion
Evard's black tentacles
Leomund's secure shelter
Magic mirror
Otiluke's resilient sphere
Rainbow pattern
Solid fog
1. Again, thus far there's been no way of dispelling magic. Now we have a means of dispelling illusions, at least.

5th level
Advanced illusion
Leomund's lamentable belabourment
Tempus fugit

1. The oddly named advanced illusion implies the presence of a series of antecedent spells which no longer exist.
2. Here we see the beginning of a pattern in the higher level spells -- means of binding and dismissing summoned creatures, but no means of summoning them! Presumably this would be achieved by magic items, or perhaps naturally occurring dimensional rifts.

6th level
Chain lightning
Death fog
Mirage arcane
Mordenkainen's lucubration
Transmute water to dust

1. Chain lightning is probably the most deadly spell in the list.

7th level
Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion
Shadow walk
Teleport without error

1. Here we encounter the only purely planar spell in the list: shadow walk. The plane of shadow would probably play a significant role in such a campaign world.
2. Teleportation seems to be a very safe business, and also provides a risky means of planar travel.

8th level
Otilkue's telekinetic sphere

1. Lots of unpleasant ways of trapping things.

9th level
Energy drain
Mordenkainen's disjunction

1. At last! A means of dispelling magic! Mordenkainen's disjunction would probably be regarded as the ultimate peak of the arcane arts.

Saturday 3 March 2012

April A-Z preview: Shrines & cosmic powers of S'raka

I mentioned a while back that I was thinking about doing the April A-Z blogger challenge again this year, and that I was considering a theme of clerical spells. Well, the idea has now crystallised.

I'll be doing a write-up of 26 alphabetically named cosmic powers (gods, devils, demons, animal kings, etc) which have prominent shrines or temples in the city of S'raka, where our Labyrinth Lord campaign is based.

As a little preview, here's the kind of thing I'll be writing. (This won't be the H for April, there'll be another that day.)

The Forge-Shrine of Hegg, God of Blades

The southerly district of Irkham, known as a centre of industry – especially of smoke-belching steel works – is also home to the shrine of a cosmic power of some importance to adventurers. Hegg, the god of blades, has small shrines scattered throughout Old Aalia, but his central place of worship is in Irkham. At first glance, the place appears to be simply a series of small smithies and metal-crafting workshops arranged around a central plaza. However the presence of the 20' high statue of the cosmic power Hegg soon alerts visitors that this is no ordinary marketplace. Hegg is portrayed, in a scintillating metal of unknown origin, as a man skewered with hundreds of blades, and with arms held aloft as if in jubilation of the sky.

The devotees of Hegg are of several kinds. Firstly are the array of metalworkers who are bound as apprentices to the shrine from a young age, and spend their whole lives there perfecting the arts of blade-crafting. The blades of Hegg are known as some of the finest available, and are highly in demand, often being commissioned by noble houses. Secondly there are the blade-maidens, white linen-clad girls and women who oversee ritual sacrifices in a specially designated sub-shrine, and the processing of the resulting animal meats into especially fine sausages. The blade-maidens also offer a blessing and a close-shave for 1sp.

Lastly are the blade-blessed, those strange and few individuals who have devoted themselves not to the practical crafts patronised by the god of blades, but rather to the unusual spiritual pursuits which please him. Little is known by outsiders of the exact activities of these few seldom seen priests, but it is clear that they are regarded as the most beloved of Hegg, and are believed to conduct private rituals in the catacombs beneath the shrine. They can be recognised by the scars which cover their bodies and faces, and by their habit of wearing as little clothing as permitted by the season, presumably in order to further emphasise their scarification. Rumours tell that the blade-blessed practice a bizarre art of self-impalement, in imitation of their lord, and that they are granted wondrous visions while they lay skewered by sacred blades.

Apart from the mundane services of the blade-maidens and the craftsmen devoted to Hegg, the following more specialised services are available at the shrine.

Enchanted blades: The artisan smiths of the temple produce blades of exquisite quality whose craftsmanship is enhanced by being imbued with the cosmic power of Hegg. Such blades are +1 magical weapons. A dagger from the forge-shrine costs 500gp, a short sword 1,500gp and a long sword 2,000gp.

Spiritual weapon: By sacrificing a silver dagger and receiving the blessing of the shrine, the benefits of this spell may be gained. The dagger is translocated to the cosmic armoury of Hegg, but can be called upon in times of need (as per the spell) by invoking the name of the god of blades. This blessing costs 100gp, in addition to the cost of the dagger.

Bless blade: A special ritual which can be performed by the blade-blessed of the shrine bestows a temporary magical enchantment onto a bladed weapon. The ritual entails the blessing of a portion of the blood of a sacrificed animal (typically a lamb). The blood is placed into a metal tube, marked with the rune of Hegg, and should be applied to a bladed weapon to invoke the effects. The anointed blade gains +1 to hit and damage for one hour, and counts as a magical weapon. The ritual costs 80gp.

Blade divination: This more unusual and expensive ritual is not often performed, but is sometimes sought by adventurers who have come across magical weapons of unknown origin. The power of Hegg can be invoked to grant a vision giving details about the origins of and enchantment which lies upon a magical bladed weapon. As preparation for the ritual, the owner of the blade must spend three days of fasting in one of the underground sub-shrines. On the night of the third day the character must take part in a ritual with the blade-blessed. An intricate and intensely painful series of cuts is inflicted upon the bodies of all present – including the character, sending them into an altered state of consciousness. At the culmination of the process one of the priests plunges the blade into himself and enters into an ecstatic trance, during which he gains information about the enchanted blade. 1d4 facts about the blade are revealed by this ritual, typically including its “plus” to hit, if possessed. The ritual costs 750gp.