Wednesday, October 30, 2013

November: Nanowrimo & The DSA Game

This november, like every november for the past seven years, I'll be participating in National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo for short). The goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words in one month. So far, I've "won" 3 times and "lost" three times, so my chance of completing the challenge this year is about 50%. In years I didn't complete 50K of words, I still wrote 20K - 30K, so it's still a boost for my writing, and so far I've completed three-and-a-half novels this way.

This year, I'm also writing a game. To be precise, I'll be writing a clone of the 1st edition of Das Schwarze Auge. I'm including both the Basic Set and the Expansion Set, so it will be pretty complete, and despite the bad rep the game has in some circles, it will actually be pretty good. (And it will be nice to have a version of the rules without Ulrich Kiesow's childish writing voice).

For this blog, it means posting will be light next month. Hopefully, I can manage to post at least once a week.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Spells of the Identity Mage

Dr. Stirma Dijke is a research scientist working at the College for Psychology and Philosophy of Pretomournon University. Her specialty is identity,  especially it’s changeability and instability. She conducts horrible experiments in which she regularly wipes subjects’ memories, forces new identities upon them, and generally makes them ripe for the asylum. Here’s two of the spells she uses.

Change Identity

Level: Magic-user 5
Duration: Permanent
Range:  25 ft. +5 ft./2 levels

The change identity spell lets a mage change a single other person’s unique sense of self. It can fully change the mental make-up of a person: his mental abilities, his personality, his class, etc. Although it can change physical attributes like the character’s race and sex, it’s a mental change, For example, a male human who’s changed into a female dwarf sees and feels female and dwarf in all respects, but she still looks exactly the same as before.

For every level the caster has above 6th, he may change one of the following things. So a 9th-level mage may change three things, a 10th-level mage may change four things, etc.

-          The victim’s Intelligence score. Re-roll with 3d6.
-          The victim’s Wisdom score. Re-roll with 3d6.
-          The victim’s Charisma score. Re-roll with 3d6.
-          The victim’s class. The caster picks the new class. The victim stays the same level as before.
-          The victim’s race. The caster picks the new race. This is a mental change only.
-          The victim’s sex. The victim becomes a member of the opposite sex. This is a mental change only.
-          The victim’s sexual identity.


Level: Magic-user 6
Duration: Variable
Range: 0

This spell makes all people in the world forget who the caster is. For the duration of the spell, not even his best friends will recognize him. He will be a complete stranger, although some people may think he looks a bit familiar. When the caster tells a person who he really is (“It’s me… Argus.”), that person will suddenly see who he really is.

To determine the precise duration and effect of the incognito spell, the caster makes a Charisma check. Because characters with higher Charisma are more memorable, it’s better to fail this check than it is to succeed with it.

Normally, the magic of the spell keeps working after the spell duration has ended: people who meet the caster while the spell is in effect will keep on remembering the stranger. However, on a very successful Charisma check they will retroactively remember his true identity.

Cha check
1 week
Caster is completely forgotten
Succeeds within 5 points of Cha score
2 days
Caster is forgotten, but some may wonder why he looks familiar
Succeeds with more than 5 points lower than Cha score
1 day
Caster is forgotten, some may wonder why he looks familiar, and he will retroactively be remembered after the duration has passed.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Faces of Pretomournon: The Amazon


The Knights of the Ark are champions of Neutrality, trying to keep the balance between Law and Chaos. It is the largest knighthood on the world of Seralin, and consists entirely of women. As often happens in such large organizations there are different movements within the order, that explain the ideologies of the order differently and want to implement its objectives in different ways.

One of the largest groups within the Knights are the Amazons. Amazons believe that the balance between Law and Chaos can be best accomplished by fighting against the natural course of things (which contains of both order and entropy). One of the ways they do that is bringing the dead back to life (with the raise dead spell). The revived dead become beimana, or cheaters, and are taken out of the wheel of reincarnation. They can never reincarnate again.

In Pretomournon’s Ruined Tower District stands "The Unaligned School for Young Women", led by its headmistress Demostratia, knight of the Ark and Amazon. The pupils at the school are all between twelve and sixteen years. They’re trained to be squires to knights of the Ark, and eventually after an internship will receive a full knighthood. All the girls are beimana, meaning they have been dead and were resurrected by an Ark knight, after which they were transferred to the girl school in Pretomournon.

Demostratia was born on the knights’ ark Utnapishtim. As a young girl she was one of the most promising squires, and she was fully knighted at the young age of fifteen. In the decade that followed Demostratia accomplished many successful missions, and she rose steadily through the ranks of the Guild. However, when she observed the knights’ "end justifies the means" philosophy in action on several of her missions, she grew more and more dissatisfied with the Guild's lessons. Her loss of faith successfully hiding, Demostratia was offered the position of headmistress of The Unaligned School. She took it eagerly, and she left for Pretomournon.

Her superiors do not know that in Pretomournon Demostratia joined La Révolution, the Guild that believes people should be able to choose their own leaders. The entire staff of the school consists of revolutionaries. In addition to classes about the knight’s code and philosophy about Order, Neutrality, and Chaos, students also get lessons in political science, guerrilla tactics, setting traps, assassination, and alchemical bomb making. When the students graduate they are not only knights, but also terrorists. Demostratia's goal is nothing less than to overthrow the leaders of the Knights of the Ark itself.

To arm her pupils, Demostratia purchased a chest of magic weapons the dwarf Ibbo. This chest was stolen by Ibbo from the warehouse of Vithimiris Reizensteijn. Reizensteijn is outraged by the theft and has offered a reward for "the dwarf with the eye-patch", but doesn’t know that the weapons are now in the hands of the revolutionary amazons.

Running the school does not go in its entirety without any problems. The gang of The Basher Brothers  visited the school a few times to suggest “in a friendly but firm way" to the headmistress to move. After some inquiries here and there Demostratia found out The Temple wants to draw a magical rune in streets, and that the school is in the way. Demostratia is not going to move the school, and so far she has managed to resist the pigs. The Bashers, not used to knights who aren’t intimidated, have yet to find a way to clear the school.

Another problem presents itself in the guise of the young scoundrel which is known as "The Romanticist". This romantic rogue visits the school regularly at night to “honor” some of the older girls with a visit. Naturally Demostratia and her staff do not want this, but they suffer the disadvantage of girls taught to turn against authority: time after time the girls help the Romanticist to hide or to get away. So far, Demostratia failed to catch the young man.

However, she did catch the thief Esbern. Demostratia caught the handsome thief when he tried to rob her office. He begged her not to hand him over to the authorities. Demostratia agreed, on condition Esbern did a number of jobs for her. Since then, an unusual relationship developed between the two, in which both are attracted to each other, but neither wants a love affair with the other.

Demostratia: AL N; MV 12; AC -1 (banded mail +1, shield +2, Dex); Human Female Fighter 6/Thief 4; hp 44; #AT 2; Dmg 1d8+5 (long sword +3, Str) or by weapon +2; S 17, D 15, C 14, I 13, W 10, Ch 14; M 8; items: helm of telepathy; XP 2400.

Thief Skills: PL 31, FRT 23, PP 37, MS 37, CW 90, HS 27, HN 1-3.

Location: The Unaligned School for Girls in the Ruined Tower District.

See also: The Basher Brothers, Esbern, Ibbo, The Romanticist, Vithimiris Reizensteijn, Sylgya.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Orc Babies

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about Mearls’ 5E articles and the rules-side of the game, but there’s been hardly any conversation about James Wyatt’s “Wandering Monsters” column. There should be, because it’s terrible. In the column, Wyatt discusses monsters, and their role in the D&D game and world. The results are often uninspired, or they come completely out of the blue.

Apparently, the goal is to create monster concepts that can include both the AD&D/3E version of a monster, and the 4E version. Sounds good, but the result is often a wishy-washy, watered down monster. I’m no fan of the changes 4E made to some of the monsters, but at least there were concepts behind them (even if they were weak concepts).  For example, the much-lamented Devil Succubus was a dumb idea, but at least it was a Devil. In 5E, the Succubus will be nothing. They’re watering down the concept even more. Furthermore, Wyatt’s articles make for dry reading, and that doesn’t bode well for the 5E Monster Manual.

Last week’s article, “You Got Science In My Fantasy” touches upon a topic I’ve been meaning to write about:

Orc Babies
Let’s get one thing straight: no orc is a “non-combatant”. The idea that encountering orc babies is an interesting “moral dilemma” or “philosophical discussion” is an often repeated adventurer legend that’s not true. It's up there with "Bree-yark means I surrender" and "Succubi are great kissers".
Orc babies are vicious, nasty little critters: balls of fur with razor-sharp teeth, an unrelenting hunger for fresh meat, and the ability to jump from the floor straight on a man’s face.

Orc Baby (2d8): AL C; MV 15; AC 10; HD 1d4 hp; #AT 1; Dmg 1d4 (bite); M 10; XP 6.

Jaws of Steel: An orc baby attacks the unarmored parts of their opponents (bare arms, face). If its bite attack succeeds, it stays attached to its opponent and does 1d4 damage automatically each round. To detach an orc baby the opponent must make a Str check.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Picture Post: The RPG Art of Bryan Talbot

In 1982, British comic book artist Bryan Talbot produced some very atmospheric illustrations for the German roleplaying game Das Schwarze Auge. It occurred to me that, since it was never translated into English, few people outside Germany, the Netherlands, Italy or France are familiar with them. So I made this post.

Talbot is best known for The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and has provided art for Judge Dredd, Batman the Dark Knight, and Sandman, among other things. In 1982 he produced 100 illustrations for German roleplaying game Das Schwarze Auge. (As I have written HERE, DSA was my first RPG.)

For a whole generation of German and Dutch gamers, his atmospheric black-and-white illustrations were the first introduction to what a fantasy world looked like.

It looked like this:
Clicking the pictures makes them bigger.

The city of Havena has seen better days.

This is from the 2nd, censored edition. Originally, the girl's dress was torn and the goblin was touching her in an inappropriate way. 

Surprising the goblin.

There are many illustrations of rooms in this book. This is one of the more interesting.

This demon from the mirror has the same stats as the hero.

DSA's kobolds were a big inspiration for my take on gnomes in the Weird Opera world.

A family of orcs.
Talbot drew this map of the game world before there even was a setting. It informed the shape the campaign setting would take.

There's a secret door hidden in this painting. See if you can deduce how to open it.






Vampire bats.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Faces of Pretomournon: The Pigs

The Basher Brothers

If you want to have someone killed, the best place to go to is the Secret Masters Guild. But sometimes you do not want someone dead immediately. Maybe you want him beat up? Threaten him? Collect money he owes you?  Break his legs? Then you can contact the Basher Brothers.

The pigs Ale, Vodka and Gin - their father named them - began their careers as bodyguards in service of the rich moneylender Garrelt Cristofoletto. Cristofoletto always used pigs as bodyguards - and still does - because he thinks that they look "tough". The brothers Ale and Vodka Basher guarded the moneylender for almost five years. During that time they often performed special "chores" for him. For example, when someone refused to pay, the brothers paid the debtor a visit to advise him to pay quickly (and when a large sum was involved, maybe break a leg or two). Ale and Wodka often took their teenage sister Gin with them on these jobs, in order to teach her “the ropes”.

When the new tax system was introduced, it paid Cristofoletto better to dismiss his bodyguards and take on freelancers. Of course he hired Ale and Vodka Basher right away, but the two pigs suddenly found themselves forced to start a company. However, Vodka saw an opportunity to expand their business. Gin began approaching new customers. There appeared to be a large market for Brute Force, and soon they got so many commissions that they had to hire personnel.

Now the Basher Brothers (and the Basher sister) are at the head of the largest mercenary guild in Pretomournon. All members of the gang are pigs, about as many bears as sows. Ale and Vodka no longer work as bodyguards - they leave that to the pigs in their service.

Ale, the oldest brother, is the largest, the strongest, and the dumbest of the siblings. Since he no longer does mercenary work, he behaves as if he's better than the staff - many of whom are former friends of his. Ale's an Executive Board Member of the mercenary guild, but actually he’s nothing more than a glorified guard of his younger brother and sister. He is especially protective of Gin, and he makes it very dangerous for would-be suitors to come near his sister.

Vodka, the middle sibling, is only slightly smarter than his older brother, but not by much. Vodka pictures himself as a real businessman. He dresses like a wealthy merchant, smokes big cigars, and travels through the city in his own rickshaw, pulled by one of his servants. But beneath that stylish exterior he remains the low-class gangster from the River District. He is vulgar, has terrible manners and a banal sense of humor.

Gin is the Basher sister. She's smarter than her brothers and therefore takes care of administration, human resources, and client contacts. But make no mistake, even though she’s smart, Gin is as vicious and violent as her brothers, and strong enough to beat almost every thug in the city in a one-on-one fight - except for Ale.

The Basher Brothers have many clients. In addition to providing Cristofoletto's protection, they work for Vithimiris ReizenSteyn, on whose behalf they threaten the art dealer Fern, for Carter Don, who hired them to clear the orphanage of the Amazon Demostratia, and for the magician Laumones of Rozeren, for whom they try to keep the rogue only known as "The Romanticist" away from his daughter Abigail. In all three of these jobs the Bashers aren’t very successful, and it looks like there’s room for competition in the thugging market. So far, however, no one has dared to compete with Ale, Vodka and Gin.

Ale Basher: AL N; MV 12; AC 6 (studded leather +1); Pig Male Fighter7; hp 49; #AT 1; Dmg 1d6+3 (mace +1, Str) or 1d4+2 (bite, Str) or by weapon +2; S 17, D 10, C 16, I 5, W 9, Ch 7; M 11; XP 790.

Vodka Basher: AL N; MV 12; AC 6 (unarmored); Pig Male Thief 9; hp 43; #AT 1; Dmg 1d4+1 (silver dagger, Str) or 1d4+1 (bite, Str) or by weapon +1; S 15, D 11, C 15, I 7, W 10, Ch 8; M 9; special: backstab (2d4+2 dmg), thief abilities; items: gloves of swimming and climbing; XP 1700.

Gin Basher: AL N; MV 12; AC 5 (unarmored, Dex); Pig Female Fighter 5; hp 40; #AT 1; Dmg 1d6+1 (mace, Str) or 1d4+1 (bite, Str) or by weapon +1; S 15, D 13, C 13, I 12, W 10, Ch 11; M 9; XP 350.

Pig Thugs of the Basher Guild: AL N; MV 12; AC 8 (leather); Pig Fighter 2; hp 10; #AT 1; Dmg 1d6+1 (mace, Str) or 1d4+1 (bite, Str) or by weapon +1; M 10; XP 29.

All have normal abilities of a pig, as described HERE.

Location: The Basher siblings can be found in their office in the Money District, or in the barracks of their mercenaries in the River District.

See also: Garrelt Cristofoletto, Demostratia, Carter Don, Fern, Vithimiris Reizensteijn, The Romanticist, Laumones Van Rozeren.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

D&D 30: I Made It, and What Now?

So I completed the 30 day challenge this Monday – precisely on schedule. I managed to post every day, and I didn’t skip days, so I didn’t need to catch up.

I had a fun time telling stories about my favorite PC, NPC, and events from previous campaigns. I play D&D in one form or another for almost 25 years, and it was nice to reminiscent about successful games in the past. Looking back, I saw we had some awesome campaigns.

I think everyone agrees the list is a bit dry and repetitive, but all-in-all most questions are good subjects to blog about. The only questions I couldn’t answer satisfactory where the two dice questions, and the one about energy. I endured the repetitive days of monster questions by drawing each monster. They became my favorite questions on the list. Making an illustration takes a lot more time than writing a post does, but I ended up with some nice drawings.

I really liked reading the posts of the other participants. Everyone’s posts were different from each other, making some nice surprises, or “oh, that’s cool”-moments. Although, I didn’t understand the answers on day 6 (favorite deity). Tyr? Chauntea? Where’s Vecna, or Tharizdun?

The most boring thing about the challenge were the people complaining about the challenge. Of course everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but I don’t understand the need for macho posturing and silly insults. Oh well, it’s over now.

What’s Next For This Blog?

Faces of Pretomournon” has begun, and three of the NPCs are posted. I’ll keep posting the write-ups about one every weekend, but with 30 NPCs, that will take a long time. Maybe, if I manage to get ahead, I can speed up posting a bit.

Further, I’m still writing “Lost Library of the Deathspeakers”. To be honest, the 30 day challenge took a lot of time away from writing the module, but I’m now returning to it, and thanks to the challenge there’s a gibbering mouther in it. I’ll post some things like new spells, books, and magic items from the adventure on the blog.