Saturday, August 29, 2009

Meditations on Magic

Many of us who played D&D through the 80s experienced and remember the association of our hobby with witchcraft, satanism and a whole Pandora's Box of mental, societal and criminal problems. My own hometown newspaper published a top-10 list of danger signs that your child is a satanist which included playing D&D. Much of this negative reaction to D&D, I believe, stems from the fact that characters in the game use magic. There are several passages in Scripture that equate the use of sorcery with sin. For example:

When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: sexual vice, impurity, and sensuality, the worship of false gods and sorcery; antagonisms and rivalry, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and all such things. Galatians 5:19-21

Rebellion is a sin of sorcery, presumption a crime of idolatry! 'Since you have rejected Yahweh's word, he has rejected you as king.' 1 Sam 15:23

What I find interesting, and telling, about these passages is the Greek for words the English has variably translated as sorcery, divination, or witchcraft. In the examples above, St. Paul uses the word pharmakeia which can be translated as both sorcery and healing. Indeed, it is the root for the English words pharmacy and pharmaceutical. In 1 Samuel, the Greek is oionisma, which refers to a type of divination that interprets the flight of birds.

In other words, magic is like any other part of creation — its being good or evil entirely depends upon how it is used. Pharmakeia can be used to coerce or con somebody (sorcery) or it can be used to help people (healing). Oionisma was used by King Saul in a way that divorced it from God — he turned away from God and instead put his trust in the flight path of birds. The evil of magic is not inherent in magic itself, but rather in the way we allow it to turn us away from God.

It is fascinating that D&D instinctually portrays this dichotomy with its magic system — divine magic being granted by God in contrast with arcane magic which finds its source within the will of the user. It would be easy to declare all divine magic good and all arcane magic evil (which does put an intriguing spin on OD&D and B/X elves), but this ignores the history of the game and ignores my basic premise that good and evil of magic is determined by how it is used.

This doesn't mean, however, that both should be equally easy to use to do good. For example, a sword and an axe are both weapons designed to kill people; however, an axe is also a tool that can be used to create things. While it is possible to use both to do good, it is easier to use an axe for good than a sword. In this same way, I feel divine magic should be easier to do good with than arcane magic. This is inherent in that divine magic is more defensive and arcane magic is more offensive; however, I like my arcane magic a little more dangerous.

I have used a number of mechanics to accomplish this. I very much enjoy the Vancian magic interpretation of S&S, which requires a roll to successfully cast a spell, which may not take effect immediately even when successful. This does not, however, take into account the motivations behind the action — that which largely determines the goodness or vileness of an action. For example, healing someone so that they can continue to be tortured for more information is not a good act. In worlds where monsters are physical manifestations of sin, one can easily have fun with wandering monster tables when arcane magic is used carelessly. This is especially effective when you have tables with monsters based on the type of sins committed.

According to the Fathers of the Church, sin can be broken down into three basic categories: Irascible (wrath, despair), Concupisent (lust, greed) and Intellectual (vainglory, pride). Each of these categories can be countered with the traditional Christian practices of fasting (for irascible sins), alms-giving (for concupisent sins) and prayer (for intellectual sins). Using this background as a jumping off point, it is relatively easy to come up with some tables utilizing standard monsters:

1-2 Berserker
3-4 Dragon
5-6 Lycanthrope

1-2 Ghoul
3-4 Harpy
5-6 Lamia

1-2 Doppleganger
3-4 Efreeti
5-6 Brain Lasher

It is also fun to design monsters that personify the various kinds of sins. Note that the character need not necessarily encounter the monster, or even be aware of its existence. Sin never just affects the person who sins, but also everyone around them. Thus, a character can bring a plague of monsters upon a neighboring community.

All of this makes arcane magic truly dangerous to use. Some side-effects of this reality that I like:
arcane magic users are going to be rare, distrusted and often Chaotic; magic is rare — the common man is too afraid to use anything associated with it; and elves are mysterious and dangerous — they aren't entirely trusted by other folk and they are as much a threat to those they help as they are to those they oppose.

Thus, it is possible to do good with arcane magic, its just not as easy as with divine magic.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lost Colonies Session 2

Our second session saw the addition of another player and an elf to the quest to retrieve Hamlen's spiked club. I would give the elf's name, but no one remembers it (see below). The party quickly brought the elf up to speed and immediately returned to the frogmen sub-level.

The frogmen had used one of their own corpses to grow a young shrieker to warn them of the party's coming. In turn, the party was happy to use the young shrieker to lure the frogmen into the open and peg them with spells and arrows. The frogmen failed their morale and the encounter turned into a running battle.

The party found the frogmen's lair, which included a fast moving underground river, along with a fair share of booty. The spiked club was retrieved from the giant frog's gut only to be lost in the currents of the river (I love making up fumble results on natural 1s). Greed got the better of Hamlen, and they busied themselves with retrieving the treasure and getting it from one side of the river to the other.

Feeling quite confident after their victory over the frogmen, the party decided to have another go at the rats. It proved to be as short and bloody as the last encounter. The elf was overwhelmed and killed. Beating a hasty retreat, the party encountered some orcs who held a dwarven prisoner by the name of Thog. After his rescue, Thog explained that he was captured by the orcs in order to find false walls and hidden traps within the catacombs. The orcs were led by a female magic user wearing a golden mask, though she and the majority of the orcs did not descend into the catacombs. Although they had figured out how to get into the catacombs, the orcs had no holy symbol to open the secret door and get out. Thog happily joined the group. Beaten, battered and tapped out of spells and healings, the party decided to head back to Headwaters to spend their treasure.

The brothers Hamlen and Guron made a contract with some local carpenters to build a barn on their father's land. Guron found that the weapon smith at the Ft. Headwaters had a flail available and Hamlen discovered that the local leatherworker, a man named Tithian, could work with giant insect chiten. A suit could provide the protection of platemail, but was semi-ablative. Any natural 20 would decrease its effectiveness by 1 AC. Tithian had already started one suit, so Hamlen commissioned the rest to be finished by our next session. Turgon was anxious to copy all of the spells out of their fallen elven companion into his own spell book. When he discovered that the only way to do so was through a Read Magic spell, which neither spell book contained, he busied himself with purchasing the necessary materials to scribe a scroll to send to his old master in the City. He sent this package along with a request for a Read Magic spell with a caravan headed towards the City. He was told to expect a reply in two to four weeks.

I keep track of time outside of our sessions by equating 1 game day for every 2 real days that go by. We only play every other week — there is a 3.5 game that is ongoing that the group plays on the off weeks. Had we played every week, time would pass as 1 game day = 1 real day. This allows for natural healing between sessions as well as purchases like Hamlen's armor or Turgon's communications to proceed at a more natural/realistic pace and yet not interfere with the adventures.

Prior to this session, I downloaded Ruins and Ronins by Mike D. over at Sword +1. It is compatible with the Swords & Wizardry rule set, but with an Oriental setting in mind. Mike gave his fighter class a Cleave-like ability that we decided to try out, given that the magic users were a bit more powerful using the Vancian magic system of Spellcraft & Swordplay where casters get a chance to keep the spells they cast. This resulted in an interesting twist.

The players of both spell casters and the fighter all thought their characters were too powerful. I was quite surprised, given that the base classes in LL are much weaker than their 3.5 counter parts. In the face of the first character death, the players were beginning to embrace the challenge of surviving with a weaker character class than they were used to. Giving their characters more powers cheapened the experience. As a result, we've gotten rid of the cleave-like ability for fighters and we've scaled back the S&S magic system. I converted it to a d20 roll and failure by 5 or more results in a backfire. Alternatively, the players may choose to cast and forget, thus eliminating the roll, but sacrificing the ability to hold on to the spell to cast again. I was looking forward to see which option they would choose in coming sessions.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happy Birthday to H.P. Lovecraft

James over at Grognardia reminded me that today is H.P. Lovecraft's birthday. If you couldn't already tell by the quote over on the right side of this page and the use of Lovecraftian images and quotes in my adventures and worlds, I am a big Lovecraft fan. Much as he has influenced science fiction and fantasy through the quiet background noise of the desolation he depicted in his writings, he has influenced the way I game. Chaos and evil have always passively or explicitly used Lovecraftian imagery in my worlds.

The irony is that I have a much deeper appreciation for Lovecraft and his world-view (with its belief that humanity and their works are, in the great scheme of things, insignificant) now, as a Christian, than I ever did when I first read his work and fell in love with it. The reason is simple: I agree with HPL and he illustrates it in a way that makes the reality of it truly horrifying.

I beseech you, my child, to look at heaven and earth and see everything in them, and know that God made them out of nothing; so also He made the race of man in this way. — 2 Maccabees 7:28

The grand sum total of everything humanity has ever done or will ever do sans God is nothing. I was personally confronted with this reality while wandering around Castle Siklos in southern Hungary on an overcast October day during the Yugoslavian Civil War. Just south of me, the Croatian stronghold of Osijek was under siege by Serbian forces. I felt the shock wave of each artillery shell rip through my gut and shatter my heart. In a world without God, all that remains is the endless struggle for power, at the of which is that black nothingness of a forgotten death. The typical response of an HPL character to such a reality — mind crushing despair — actually seems reasonable. Any one who actually has the fortitude to stand up in the face of this chaos truly is a hero.

Into this mess— this bleak, meaningless exercise in futility — came a babe who 33 years later would boldly march to Golgotha with a cross on His back. Willingly, He embraced the nothingness that is death. In so doing, He brought life, light and hope to those in darkness. He went to the very depths of where evil lay, looked the devil in the eye and said not here, not today. He snatched our very being from the jaws of absolute nothing and took us back with Him as a highly-valued treasure and presented us to His Father.

This is why I love the metaphor of delving into the depths of a megadungeon to face off against some vile spawn of chaos to steal away treasures to further the fight against forces of evil. This is why I love HPL so much. His imagery truly captures the utter terror and mind-dumbing despair of a world without God. Standing up to that horror and surviving to fight another day — that's a perfect expression of the hope I have in Christ.

Happy Birthday HPL.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lost Colonies Session 1

This experiment began because there were only three players available from a 3.5 campaign that had to take a week off due to obligations of the other players. The three that remained were willing to give Labyrinth Lord a try. Fortunately, they enjoyed it enough to make a campaign of it. The initial party of three consisted of two brothers — Deacon Guran the Cleric and Hamlen the Fighter — whose father was a local farmer, and Turgan the Magic User, who travelled into the wilds from the City (which, as of yet, has no formal name) in order to find adventure. 

Between the three they knew of four rumors about potential adventure in the area. To the northeast there is a place called Redwraith that has a persistent undead problem. Directly south is a jungle that is known to contain giant insects. Southeast is an abandoned monastery that has recently been occupied by orcs. Also to the southeast, a few days travel beyond the monastery, is a fort called Longwood. It has recently been victimized by attacks from the air.

Of these, the monastery seemed the most attractive. The group equipped themselves, embracing non-metallic weapons and armor in order to avoid the price hike for things like swords and chainmail. Despite encouragement by the referee, they did not try to find any hirelings or henchmen. Instead, they bought a pair of dogs. 

The monastery itself is a fortified structure on top of a stone pillar a couple of hundred feet tall. Three cave openings dot the large column of rock and there is a large stairway that winds up to the main entrance of the fortifications. A large hill sits opposite the monastery. There appears to be a large door that leads into the hill. The only access to this seems to be a causeway from the fortifications. The hill around the door has been hewn away to almost vertical, making any climb up hazardous. Beneath it are the ruins of a town — the only structures that remain are the ruins of two towers, the gate house and a church. The party was quite wary of the fortifications and decided to busy themselves with the ruins beneath.

They found the gatehouse and one of the towers unoccupied. The other tower was clogged with webbing, which they wisely decided to leave alone. Finally, they entered the ruined church. Inside, they found several orcs and a secret door behind a statue of St. Nesoran, to whom the church was dedicated. After routing the orcs, they discovered that the secret door led to a sacristy and some stairs down behind a locked door. Of note, the secret door could only be opened from the inside using Deacon Guran's holy symbol.

The stairs led to some catacombs. Within they found a fount with blessed waters capable of healing wounds once a day when placed on the wound. Drinking it just quenched thirst. They also found a section dominated by giant rats. This encounter proved to be short and bloody. Both dogs died, Deacon Guran contracted a nasty disease and the party was forced to retreat.

After getting proper medical treatment, the party hired on a local hunter named Guy. Returning to the catacombs, they avoided the rat infestation and stumbled upon a sub level guarded by a living statue labeled "St. Gabriel the Guardian." Remembering the secret door, Deacon Guran flashed his holy symbol and the statue let them pass. 

Beyond, they found a number of frogmen and giant frogs occupying a series of natural caves. They experimented with fire and oil, with mixed and often hilarious results. They managed to secure an obsidian statuette of a humanoid with a tentacled face before they had to beat a hasty retreat in the face of overwhelming numbers when a few well-placed shriekers were set off, but not before Harmen's beloved spiked club was swallowed by one of the giant frogs. Harmen was determined to return and gut the creature to retrieve his favorite weapon.

I only give experience for treasure spent, so the characters quickly went about trying to sell the statuette. They struck up a good relationship with the local alchemist Alidor, who, while being a bit absent minded, is interested in strange artifacts and various ingredients one might glean from the denizens of a dungeon. They managed to barter for some potions and offered to bring back various potential ingredients, to which Alidor happily agreed. The brothers ended the evening's play by purchasing a new stud horse for their father's farm.

This is an example of a consequence of exerience for treasure spent — players must find things for their characters to spend their money on. This process is easier to accomplish when the players find financial goals for their characters to try and accomplish — in this case, getting more potions and helping with their father's farm. It should be noted that this really only works in an environment where the players are free to drive the campaign in directions that they choose. In an environment where the story arc of the campaign is thrust upon the characters, character goals become largely irrelevant and the experience for treasure spent loses much of its luster.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lost Colonies Campaign

Recently, I have been running a Labyrinth Lord campaign with a group who primarily were introduced to D&D through 3rd edition. It has been an exercise in impromptu refereeing, on my part. I did not know what to expect, as far as a continuing campaign. As a result, I re-purposed a bunch of maps — I did not want to spend a lot of prep time on a campaign that might not last and part of me wanted to experiment with the concept. In fact, I have yet to use a map specifically created for this campaign. Interestingly, this has not hampered anyone's enjoyment of the game, and, as far as I am concerned, I've actually had more fun than I usually do as a referee.

For the curious, I am using a Judges Guild map for the campaign world, recast as a wilderness with the last vestiges of several colonies established by an empire that collapsed over a generation ago. The players began their careers in a town named after the fortress that protects it — Headwaters. It is the last stronghold of civilization, surrounded by a wilderness ruled by beings of Chaos. I placed several potential adventures, dungeons and megadungeons on the map, created a classic rumor table and had the players roll to see what their characters knew. After that, it was entirely up to them as to what they did — something they have come to really appreciate.

The area is sub-tropical and metal poor. This has put a premium on all things metallic and forced the players to be creative about how they equip their characters. More on that later. I've thoroughly enjoyed James' synopsis of his Dwimmermount campaign. In a similar vein, with an eye towards observing how 3.5 players adapt to old school play, I plan to write up my own synopsis of what I'll call the Lost Colonies campaign. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Have the Power!

One of the perks of being a father of young children is that I get an excuse to watch a lot of cartoons. I particularly enjoy sharing with my kids the cartoons I grew up watching. It is a fascinating experience full of surprises. For example, I enjoy the original series of Johnny Quest more as an adult than I did as a kid and my eldest daughter is a big fan of Thundarr the Barbarian, of all things. The is one show, however, that held no surprise for me at all — He-Man: Masters of the Universe.

My children have shown very little interest in He-Man, and I have never much liked the show myself. One of the main reasons for my dislike is that I was acutely aware that the He-Man cartoons were 30 minute commercials for actions figures.

He-Man toys first appeared in 1981. The Filmation cartoon didn't air until 1983. In other words, the He-Man cartoon was one of the first instances that I am aware of that created a TV show based on a Toy instead of the other way around. This particular arrangement bothered me quite a lot. I had never shown much interest in action figures based on movies or TV shows. Even my love for the Star Wars movies never really materialized in much of a collection of Star Wars toys. I never felt free to play with the toys as I wished to play with them. Luke Skywalker was always going to be Luke. I couldn't imagine allowing myself to do anything else.

He-Man took this to a whole new level. Making a TV show based on a toy sent a message: this is how you play with these toys. Looking back, I find it fascinating that the original back-story for He-Man, prior to the advent of the TV show, sounded like a great sandbox campaign:

He-Man is a barbarian from an Eternian tribe. The planet's inhabitants are dealing with the aftermath of the Great Wars, which devastated the civilizations that once ruled supreme over all lesser beings. The Wars left behind advanced machinery and weaponry known only to select people. — Wikipedia

By creating the detailed story lines of the TV show, this evocative description, and the endless possibilities were, for all practices purposes, destroyed. Anyone playing with the He-Man toys would expect to play the TV show, and nothing else. He-Man marks the moment in my life when I became disillusioned by marketing. It also marks a shift in the culture of RPGs.

The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon came out in 1983. Dragonlance first appeared in 1984. The way that D&D was being marketed sent a message: this is the way you play the game.

In retrospect, the mid-eighties marked a time when I wandered away from D&D as my main RPG. In the heady days from 1979-1981, I bought everything I could associated with D&D. Starting in 1983/1984 I can count the number of TSR products I bought on one hand. If I couldn't be free to play the game the way I wanted, I wasn't going to play. Eventually I did fall in with a group that primarily felt the same way. We never played Greyhawk, let alone Forgotten Realms and all the other settings that came out in the coming years. Not only do I think that our game didn't suffer from it, but I think our game was better for it.

In Christianity, there is a reason why the Eucharist is bread and wine. God has given us wheat and grapes. We take these gifts, rework them, recreate them and then give them back to God. We are expected to be co-creators with God:

God formed out of the ground all the wild animals of the field and all the birds of the heaven, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. Thus whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. — Genesis 2:19

Thus, when we are given a game or a toy — something with which we are supposed to creative — and then told that there is only one way to play with it is antithetical to what it means to be human. This is why I've always made my own worlds and why I've never done anything with published game-settings other than read them to mine them for ideas to use in my own game worlds.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Life Isn't Fair: Lessons from V&V and White Wolf

And Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had" (Luke 21:1-4; Mark 12:41-44).

One of the problems with scientific objectivism is that when applied to statements like "all men are created equal" it has a very difficult time justifying them. Objectively a quadraplegic is not equal to an NFL football player. Life isn't fair. We do not all begin life with the same hand of cards; however, in context of Christ, it is not the hand we are dealt, but rather the way we play the hand that matters. In the eyes of God, the poor widow played brilliantly with a very bad hand; whereas the rich played very poorly with fabulous hands. In other words, being a great human being is not dependent upon having having a bunch of gifts handed to us on a silver platter. Doing the best we can with what gifts we have — playing the hand of cards as best as we can — is what makes us great. In my own experience, this has been reflected in my gaming, none more so than with Villains and Vigilantes and Mage: the Ascension.

Like many gamers, I played a lot of White Wolf in the 90s. I played several campaigns and though I enjoyed them and the company of those I played with, none of them ever really inspired me until my GM pulled a fast one on us during a Mage campaign. He wanted us to have an appreciation for the motivations and situations of our enemies. Thus, during the second session of our campaign, he handed us the character sheets of the party of Technologists who were trying to deal with the same situation our original characters were. We spent the whole session playing our own adversaries.

We all screamed and complained and threw a fit — it just wasn't fair. We'd spent all that time creating our characters and now we weren't allowed to play them. Here's the rub: we all had more fun playing the Technologists than we did playing our own characters. We more easily got into character, we were more creative with our powers, and things just seemed to click. When we had to go back to playing those characters we thought we wanted to play, and so laboriously poured over using a point-based system, everything fell flat. We stopped gelling, our creativity tanked, and our characters no longer felt right. We actually began to look forward to playing the characters imposed upon us by our GM. The characters we made for ourselves were like the rich giving to the temple — we had everything we wanted in our characters. When confronted with characters we didn't want, we had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. By pushing ourselves beyond the character, to try and find fun despite the character, we gained much more than having the characters we thought we wanted.

Over the years, I've played a lot of Champions, probably more so than any other RPG other than D&D; however, it isn't my favorite superhero RPG. That distinction goes to Villains and Vigilantes. I just can't begin to explain how much I love all those random tables I get to use during character creation. I can never get the character I want using those tables, but I can tell you that the best super hero characters I ever played were a result of those tables (I even used them for my Champions games). Being dealt an odd hand always forced me to be a better player, to be creative with the hand I was dealt, and it always seemed to create a better gaming experience than I ever got with a point build.

This is why I am very comfortable (and even prefer) rolling for stats, and rolling for them in order. If a game doesn't have some kind of random character generation system, I'm not really all that interested. Give me the randomly generated gonzo mutant weirdo over the well constructed point built character any day. The gonzo mutant weirdo will push me as a player, push my creativity, and push the game into directions hitherto untold and unexplored. The end result is a better game, because that game will be a lot more fun.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Magic Item: Mask of Cyn

Mask of Cyn

These powerful artifacts are a result of the war between the Sons of Cyn and the Brain Lashers (see Mutant Future). They are metallic masks that cover the entire head, each portraying an expression corresponding to the sin they represent. Once put on, it can only be taken off with Remove Curse spell. Once worn, the user is immune to the mental powers of the Brain Lasher and the Brain Lasher cannot eat the wearer's brain. There are six types of masks. Each type corresponds to a particular characteristic and sin:

Strength (Wrath): Shocking Grasp 3/day for 3d6 damage

Intelligence (Pride): Mind Thrust. Range 50' damage 1,2 or 3d6. Power must recharge for one round per d6 used in the last attack. Please note: anyone wearing a Mask of Cyn gets a save vs. spell to negate this damage.

Wisdom (Avarice/Gluttony): Mental Phantasm. The user is capable of creating a realistic, illusory environment in the mind of another conscious creature. These visions are realistic to all senses but touch. Once the target tries to make physical contact with any element of the phantasm it dissolves into reality.

Dexterity (Despair): Haste 3/day. This only affects the user who must rest for double the duration of the spell or suffer damage equal to half her HP.

Constitution (Weakness): Body Adjustment. The user can heal all of their HP once every 24 hours. In addition, if in a life or death situation the user can double their STR, DEX and CON. This latter power can be used 1d4 times per week.

Charisma (Lust): Charm Person 3/day.

When the mask is first put on, a type of contest of wills begins. The character must make a save vs. spells. If the character saves, the mask is inert and functions as a great helm (though it still can only be removed with a Remove Curse spell). If the character fails, the mask activates and lets the character know all the powers of the mask and how to use it. Once the mask is active, the character must make a save vs. spells in order to subject themselves to the Remove Curse spell to remove the mask. A failed save means the character refuses to take the mask off. Any time the character is in a situation that would warrant the use of the helmet (or whenever the player voices the desire to use it) the character must make a save vs. spell. If the save fails, the character either activates the mask (if it was inert) or must use the power of the mask (if active).

Every time the power of the mask is used, the character must make a save vs. spells. If the save fails, the characteristic associated with the mask is reduced by 1. The next time the power of the mask is used, the characteristic goes back to its original score; however, the next time the save is failed, the score is reduced by the number of times the save has been failed. Thus a character with a STR of 15 who has failed the save for the third time now has a STR of 12. Once the characteristic is reduced to 0 the contest of wills is over and the mask takes control. The character is now an NPC and handed over to the Referee.

If the mask is removed after any characteristic loss, that loss is permanent until a Remove Curse spell is cast for each characteristic point lost.

Active masks will fill characters with visions of a great civilization from some lost past. The characters will be compelled to rebuild/recover this civilization primarily using the sin associated with the mask.

Monster: Sons of Cyn

Sons of Cyn

Armor Class: Variable
Hit Dice: Variable
Attacks: Variable
Saving Throw: Variable
Special: Mask of Cyn
Move: Variable
Morale: 10
Challenge Level/XP: Variable

Somewhere in the distant past the Brain Lashers (see Mutant Future) conquered a race of evil humans and enslaved them. Bread for food and a cheap workforce, over time and exposure to the pure chaos that fueled the Brain Lasher's machines, the humans mutated. Today they appear as emanciated albinos wearing metallic masks that cover the whole head. Underneath their masks, they have long, gaunt features and pointed ears. Given that many of their masks are identical, they sport individualizing tatoos. Over the centuries of their enslavement, they cultivated a deep resentment and kept alive myths of their great and glorious past before the coming of the Brain Lashers. For centuries they could not summon up sufficient strength to free themselves. Gradually, in secret, they developed magics that could counter the Brain Lashers power over them. Finally, under the leadership of a man named Cyn, they rebelled against their captors. After a long and bloody struggle, they succeeded in gaining their freedom; however, the very magic that allowed them to break from their yoke drove them insane. The unity they forged under the leadership of Cyn was shattered. In the chaos of the infighting, Cyn himself disappeared.

Currently, there are six factions who all claim to be the true Sons of Cyn: Cynthimos, Cynpothos, Cynlypi, Cynadunami, Cynperifani, Cynaplusti. As each faction tries to build its version of the race's glorious past, they wage war and make tenuous treaties with each other and with the Brain Lashers. Normally, these vicious and violent conflicts occur deep within the earth. Occasionally, however, they do spill out onto the surface. Death and destruction always follow.

The masks that the Sons of Cyn wear are called Masks of Syn. They make the wearer immune to the mental attacks of the Brain Lasher and make it impossible for them to feed on the wearer's brain. Each faction wears its own version of the mask, each of which grants the wearer one of the following powers:

Cynthimos: Shocking Grasp 3/day for 3d6 damage

Cynpothos: Charm Person 3/day.

Cynlypi: Haste 3/day. This only affects the user who must rest for double the duration of the spell or suffer damage equal to half her HP.

Cynadunami: Body Adjustment. The user can heal all of their HP once every 24 hours. In addition, if in a life or death situation the user can double their STR, DEX and CON. This latter power can be used 1d4 times per week.

Cynperifani: Mind Thrust. Range 50' damage 1,2 or 3d6. Power must recharge for one round per d6 used in the last attack. Please note: anyone wearing a Mask of Cyn get a save vs. spell to negate this damage.

Cynaplusti: Mental Phantasm. The user is capable of creating a realistic, illusory environment in the mind of another conscious creature. These visions are realistic to all senses but touch. Once the target tries to make physical contact with any element of the phantasm it dissolves into reality.

Each faction is ruled by an undying wizard-king and can be distinguished by both their masks and their dress. Sons of Cyn will rarely be encountered outside their lair in parties greater than 4. A typical party consists of two trainees (1st or 2nd level fighter or magic user) one fighter of level 3-5 and a leader who functions as a 5th level elf. Sons of Cyn have normal human chances for possession of magic items.