Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thundercats and D&D's Influence on Popular Culture

I don't know how many folks out there caught the premier of Cartoon Network's relaunch of Thundercats. Having fond memories of how wonderfully awful the original series was, I have had occasion to show my older kids some of those old episodes. Thus, my children were very eager to watch the new series, which we did.

Besides creating a much better foundation and background for an ongoing series than the original ever did, I was very much struck by how much D&D has seeped into our popular culture. While the show does owe a lot to the sci-fi/fantasy mash-ups of our pulp heritage, I don't think this iteration of the Thundercats could exist in a world without D&D.

In addition to telling the tale of the fall of Thundera and the ascension of Lion-O to the title of Lord of the Thundercats, the primary purpose of the first episode was to gather a diverse group of characters to go on a quest. Sound familiar? It hews even closer to our beloved game. Note how the iconic characters are portrayed:

  • Cheetara is the last living Cleric. Yep. Cleric.
  • Wilykat and Wilykit are street urchins who steal for food. (The party Thieves, anyone?)
  • Tygra (who is Lion-O's adoptive older brother) is a gifted warrior who is an expert marksman and uses invisibility. (Fighter/Ranger type?)
  • Lion-O is a fearless warrior who, of course, wields the powerful Sword of Omens. (Fighter/Paladin type?)

One of the more intriguing aspects of the relaunch is the idea that technology is a lost/mythical treasure that Lion-O gets criticized for dreaming about by both his father and older brother. The way the show depicts technology, once it shows up, kind of reminds me of a type of re-skinned magic. Panthero does not make a personal appearance in the series opener, but if the series follows in the footsteps of the original, he will be the party's expert in technology, setting him up as the party magic-user.

I was pleasantly surprised and look forward to watching more episodes with my kids. I also plan on taking notes in order to incorporate some of its better ideas into a FRPG campaign — because, if we are honest, that's where this iteration of Thundercats began.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saintly Saturday: The Forefeast of the Precious Cross

I am going to break pattern a little bit today by highlighting something that happens tomorrow rather than today, and it takes a little bit of explanation. One of the first Christian archeologists was St. Helen — mother of St. Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome. She spent a lot of time in the Holy Land retracing the steps of Christ and building churches at the place of key events in the life of Christ. During her searches, she found the True Cross — the cross upon which Christ was crucified. [For those of you who are skeptical, she knew it was the True Cross by the miracles that happened in its presence.]

The Cross was then brought to the imperial city of Constantinople where it became a tradition to make a procession around the city with the Cross at the beginning of August. This particular feast tends to be overshadowed by the main feast of the Cross (the Elevation of the Cross celebrated September 14) and August 1st marks the beginning of the Dormition Fast. Thus, it is not widely practiced; however, it still has a place in the church calendar.

Tomorrow is the Forefeast of this event — a day (and in some cases days) where the Orthodox Church anticipates a feast. Here is the crux of why I chose to post about tomorrow rather than today — time. Forefeasts and fasts (such as the one the Orthodox Church begins on Monday) demonstrate that the Orthodox Church sees time itself as part of creation and therefore it needs to be sanctified along with the rest of creation. Forefeasts are only one of several ways that the Orthodox Church does this.

The one way I find most interesting and inspiring is how the Orthodox Church sanctifies the days of the week. Each day of the week has proscribed hymns centering around a particular theme:

  • Monday = The Angels
  • Tuesday = St. John the Baptist (and all the prophets)
  • Wednesday = The Cross (the betrayal of Judas)
  • Thursday = The Apostles & St. Nicholas (the model for all great bishops — the successors to the Apostles)
  • Friday = The Cross and the Theotokos (the VIrgin Mary who watched her son die on the Cross)
  • Saturday = The Martyrs (and all those who have fallen asleep in the Lord)
  • Sunday = The Resurrection

This suggests a way of infusing this sense of time in a campaign (and, incidentally, incentivizing platers to keep track of time). Have each day of the week affect various classes in different ways. This can take the form of bonuses or penalties to hit, to saves or damage. Alternatively, this could take the form of a single re-roll per day — on good days, the player gets to decide to re-roll a failure; on bad days the Referee gets to force a re-roll on a success. Other possibilities: Clerics and Magic-users get a bonus spell/lose one spell, Fighters get max/minimum damage on one hit, Thieves get one guaranteed success/failure with one of their skills. Here is one possible way to set this up:

Bonus Days

Monday = Fighters
Tuesday = Magic-users
Wednesday = Thieves
Thursday = Clerics
Saturday = All Classes

Penalty Days

Monday = Magic-users
Tuesday = Clerics
Wednesday = Fighters
Thursday = Thieves

Neutral Days

Friday & Sunday

This set up allows for two days of the week to be normal, one day where everyone will be at their best and four days that are a mixed bag. When a party goes adventuring can become as important as where.

Friday, July 29, 2011

When Halflings Go Bad

If one accepts the idea that elves, dwarves and halflings are fey-touched; that orcs, hobgoblins and gnolls are twisted elves; and that kobolds and goblins are twisted dwarves than there is a glaring hole in the monster listings (especially in Holmes & Cook). There is no humanoid monster that can pass for a twisted halfling.

Holmes clearly understands halflings to be an FRPG version of Tolkien's hobbit (he actually uses the word hobbit for halfling in several places). Since hobbits have a love for food, it seems apropos for twisted halfings to take that love to an extreme:


The voice of the Lord cries to the city (it is sound wisdom to fear your name): Hear, O tribe and assembly of the city! Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you. Micah 6:9-10;14

Number Appearing: 1d6
% in Lair: 40%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: 5
Move: 9
Hit Dice: 1d6
Attacks: 1d4
Special: see below
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: IV (XX)
XP: 9

These loathsome creatures are often mistaken for goblins, being of similar build and visage. They are not, however, one of the goblinoid races. Rather, they are an evil kin of halflings and who are consumed by an insatiable hunger which can only be abated by man-flesh. To this end, they file their teeth into sharp points which they use to latch onto their victims. Once they have hit their target, they automatically deal 1d4 damage every round.


I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you shall remember your evil ways, and your dealings that were not good; and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. — Ezekiel 36:30-31

Number Appearing: 1d4
% in Lair: 20%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: 4
Move: 9
Hit Dice: 3+1
Attacks: 1d6/1d6
Special: see below
Save: F4
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: VII (XXI)
XP: 135

Having a similar mien to ghouls, famkin are often mistaken for creatures of the undead. While they share the ghoul's taste for the rancid dead, these cursed creatures are among the living. Doomed with a hunger that can never be satisfied, these creatures have a deep-seated hatred of life. This manifests itself as an aura of pestilence. All drink and food stuff within a 30'r. must make a save vs. poison or spoil. Likewise, all those struck by their foul claws must save vs. poison or be afflicted with a debilitating disease. Victims lose a point of Strength every day. If reduced to zero Strength, the victim dies. The Strength loss can be halted with a Cure Disease spell; however, unless an additional save vs. poison is made there will be a permanent loss of 1d3 Strength.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Orcs in Averoigne

Yesterday, I posted some variations of goblins for the purpose of making them more interesting and more dangerous. I am very much interested in doing something similar with orcs; however, they are primarily a literary creation of Tolkien. While the professor does cite some Old-English words as source material for his orcs, these words all point to devils, ogres and giants — not a direction I am particularly interested in. In other words, there is very little to go on in terms of myth, folklore or etymology.

Tolkien does, however, provide some fodder for inspiration in the origin of orcs — they are twisted elves. Therefore, we can intuit a variety of orcs (and therefore hobgoblins and gnolls) by making them more or less like their elven progeny. While I primarily plan to use these variations for the purposes of making leader and champion types, there is nothing to suggest that there aren't entire tribes of the following:

Warrior Mages

These orcs function exactly as a normal elf, but with a full HD and are the type of variant orc I will most likely use as non-leader types. The spells most commonly used by this type are magic missile, darkness, protection from good and ventriloquism. While they are capable of casting Charm Person and Sleep, these spells are closely guarded by leader types — used in combination, they make for easy assassinations by rivals.


Who says all the magic-using types that have an orc army at their back have to be human?


This is a variation of the Wizard who specializes in creating and controlling undead. While there are plenty of examples of necromancer-type classes out there, I am tempted to simply say that a necromancer can summon 1d6 skeletons/1d4 zombies/or 1 ghoul at will.


These nasty orcs are capable of shooting at any time during the movement phase and may split their move — half-move, fire, half-move.

Finally, there are also combinations of all of the above — Archer Mages, Warrior Necromancers etc.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


One of the monsters that is specifically mentioned as being a denizen of the forests of Averoigne is the goblin. Given that Holmes sets a precedent for making up your own monsters by his example of doing so with his own Sample Dungeon, I thought it appropriate to make the goblin a little more interesting than merely a 1-1HD monster who doesn't like sunlight. Since I've already made elves and dwarves fey-touched and since goblins are a twisted version of dwarves, I've used various fey and goblin inspired myths and folklore to come up with the following goblin variants (all of which use normal Goblin stats):


These goblins are excellent trackers and experts at stealth and ambush. They surprise with a 1-3 on a d6. Bogie kings and champions fight as Bugbears.


These are water goblins who are able to use Charm Person to lure their victims into the water to drown and be eaten.


These greedy goblins can always be found near their lair steadfastly guarding their treasure (they have a treasure type C; if no treasure is rolled, roll until there is [if using LL, always use Hoard Class XX regardless of the number encountered]). To do this, they can Transmute Rock to Mud and Control Plants as per the spells.


These goblins have the ability to shape change into a type of wild animal. This ability also gives them affinity towards this animal type, allowing them the ability to summon 1d8 of these animals.

Red Caps

These crazed and violent goblins behave as if a permanent Haste spell has been cast upon them.


These are winged goblins. If they are able to attack with a dive, all damage done from the dive attack is doubled.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jacques de la Lanterne

Having a dungeon called Chateau des Faussesflammes implies that one needs some kind of false flame — the literal meaning of the castle's name. The most appropriate candidate is the will-o-wisp whose name in Latin (igneous fatuus) also means false flame; however, I have never much liked the MM1 version of this monster. With its 9HD and AC of -8 (really!?) I have never had an occasion to use them. Even if I did, they strike me as a rather uninteresting way to kill off a bunch of characters.

Fortunately, neither Cook nor Holmes gives any stats for the will-o-wisp, so I am left to my own devices. The Wikipedia entry on Will-o'-the-wisp provides this rich piece of folklore:
An Irish version of the tale has a ne'er-do-well named Drunk Jack or Stingy Jack who makes a deal with the Devil, offering up his soul in exchange for payment of his pub tab. When the Devil comes to collect his due, Jack tricks him by making him climb a tree and then carving a cross underneath, preventing him from climbing down. In exchange for removing the cross, the Devil forgives Jack's debt. However, because no one as bad as Jack would ever be allowed into Heaven, Jack is forced upon his death to travel to Hell and ask for a place there. The Devil denies him entrance in revenge, but, as a boon, grants Jack an ember from the fires of Hell to light his way through the twilight world to which lost souls are forever condemned. Jack places it in a carved turnip to serve as a lantern.
This story is not found in Europe, however, where will-o-wisps were thought to be spirits of the dead or the supernatural. Thus, my version will fall somewhere in between.

Jacques de la Lanterne

Rescue me from the cruel sword, and deliver me from the hand of aliens, whose mouths speak lies, and whose right hands are false. — Psalm 144:11

Number Appearing: 1
% in Lair: nil
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: 2
Move: 15
Hit Dice: 1+1 (turn as 2 HD)
Attacks: see below
Special: see below
Save: F2
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: nil
XP: 33

These malevolent and mischievous spirits only appear at night or in darkness and from a distance. Those who set eyes upon them will see someone vaguely familiar holding a lantern [in the environs of the Chateau des Faussesflammes they often appear as the Pattern Juggler]. Those who show any kind of curiosity about this vision must make a save vs. spell. Those who fail will fall under a charm and will insist on running after the Jacques de la Lanterne for what they will perceive as 1d6 turns.

During the chase, the Jacques de la Lanterne will keep its distance and never willingly engage in combat. If forced, its attack will do no damage, but will paralyze its victim for 2d4 turns unless a save is made.

While the chase is going on, no mapping may take place and characters will become disoriented. At the end of the 1d6 turns, the Jacques de la Lanterne disappears and its victims are released from their charm. This chase, however, does not take place in normal space or normal time. Those characters who participated in the chase (even those not charmed) will end up in a random section of the dungeon (roll a random room or geomorph on the same dungeon level) or a random adjacent hex in the outdoors. The chase will take the following amount of time for each turn the chase goes on (roll a d4):

  1. Seconds
  2. Minutes
  3. Hours
  4. Days

Jacques de la Lanternes are undead and may be Turned (if the cleric manages to make the saving throw). If turned, those who are charmed receive another saving throw. They are unaffected by the spells charm person, sleep, or hold person.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saintly Saturday: The Prophet Ezekiel

According to the Greek calendar, today is the feast of the prophet Ezekiel (other local Orthodox churches celebrate him on the 21st). Ezekiel was born of the tribe of Levi and was a priest during the reign of Jechoniah II, some six centuries before the birth of Christ. He was 25 years old when he, along with his king and many others, were captured by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnessar. He was living in captivity along the River Chebar when he was called by God to be a prophet. This call is famously recounted in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel.

This chapter properly belongs to the genre of apocalyptic literature. Though the word apocalypse has come to mean disaster or end of the world, its proper meaning is revelation. Thus, what Ezekiel is trying to put into words in the first chapter of the book that bears his name is his experience of encountering the living God.

Understood in context of Christ, Ezekiel's vision looks like this:

The throne is the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary). The man sitting upon the throne is the incarnate Christ. The living creatures are the four cherubim, where each one corresponds to one of the four Gospel accounts. The great wheels are the angelic host singing holy, holy, holy.

Having said (and accepted) this understanding of Ezekiel, I can't help but be inspired by this particular passage from the prophet:

I saw a wheel touching the ground beside each of the four-faced living creatures. The appearance and structure of the wheels were like glittering chrysolite. All four looked alike, and their appearance and structure were such that each wheel seemed to have another wheel inside it. In whichever of the four directions they moved, they did not need to turn as they moved. Their circumference was of awe-inspiring size, and the rims of all four sparkled all the way round. When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures left the ground, the wheels too left the ground. — Ezekiel 1:15-19

Doing even a cursory web search of the words "Ezekiel Chapter 1" will reveal a cornucopia of theories about how this passage is really about UFOs. While I find it extremely entertaining that there are atheists who fail to see the irony that their acceptance of the existence of alien life requires a kind of faith similar to that held by those of us who believe in God, I can completely sympathize with the impulse to see this passage as a description of some kind of machine.

It represents in us a desire to comprehend the incomprehensible. If this image of God is a machine, then it is something we can touch, test, understand and ultimately master. Such a hope, however, is a fools errand. One of the reasons apocalyptic literature is so wildly fantastic is precisely because God is incomprehensible, ineffable and immeasurable. These images are an attempt to describe the indescribable — they are a literary technique to demonstrate the impossibility of trying to describe God in the first place.

This impossibility, though, doesn't stop them from trying. The reason we try is because we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are meant to strive to be like Him. Therefore, we imagine, we develop and we create. In part, this is why I play RPGs.

It is in this vein that I find the genre-bending madness of S&S, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and Spelljammer to be natural and entirely acceptable. By juxtaposing the fantastic with the pseudo-scientific we create the same tantalizing nigh-knowability of the unknowable experience that Ezekiel had at the River Chebar.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On Being Seelie

Any time one decides to set an FRPG in an pseudo-historical setting, such as Averoigne, one must deal with elves, dwarves, halflings, etc. A choice must be made: to have demi-humans or not. If they are included, they must be explained — especially if the pseudo-historical setting is Christian because the salvation of Christ is intrinsically tied to His incarnation as a human.

I have long been a fan of demi-humans. When I first began to play with the Holmes edition all those years ago my first character was an elf and my best friend's was a dwarf. Though my friends and I gravitated towards human characters as we grew older, I have always enjoyed the sense of whimsy and mystery they can bring into a game (they also can transform a "hopeless" character into something dangerous as the halfling Pawnchee has demonstrated in my Lost Colonies campaign). Therefore, I am not particularly interested in "punting" the issue of demi-humans by not including them in my version of Averoigne.

This brings me to the word seelie. With the world of FRPGs we associate this word strongly with fey creatures and their two rival courts who may or may not be benevolent toward humans. If we look at the etymology of the word, however, we find three very interesting meanings: happy, lucky and blessed. I am particularly interested in that last word, especially given this depiction of Christ by the Pre-Raphaelite William Hunt:

I defy anyone to deny that this doesn't have at least a passing resemblance to how Tolkien describes his high elves.

The word unseelie, therefore, means unholy. There are two primary examples of unholy beings that frequent the forests of Averoigne: vampires and lycanthropes. These two can be seen as men who have actively denied God's image and likeness within themselves. Vampires have chosen to seek immortality sans God and lycanthropes (literally wolf-men) have denied their own free-will to make moral choices — they give themselves over to being beasts and beings of pure instinct.

This suggests that the fey, rather than being faeries, elves, dwarves, goblins, etc. are actually bodiless powers (aka angels and demons) who either bless or corrupt normal human beings who then become elves, dwarves, goblins, etc. I imagine that the normal trajectory would look something like this:

  • A child is "touched" and begins to display outward signs of being an elf, dwarf or halfling.
  • This child would then never quite fit into normal human society. Society may even fear the child.
  • The child would then have three options: embrace their gift (and possibly get ostracized), hide their gift in order to fit in (the origin of half-elves?) or reject it.
  • Those that embraced their gift but are ostracized are tempted by unseelie fey to take revenge. Those that give in are twisted (the origin of orcs, etc.)
  • Those that reject their gift will also be tempted by the unseelie fey to do whatever it takes to get rid of their gift. These will also be twisted.
  • Subsequently, those that are twisted have two options: repent or no.
  • Those that refuse to repent become monsters.

The one wrench in this whole set-up is the elf, who is able to cast arcane magic. Given that arcane magic is naturally corruptive (especially when not done in conjunction with divine magic and/or the church), the origin of the elven "gift" is most likely not seelie. Quite possibly, the reason people fear the "touched" is due to the very reason that most, if not all, elves are unseelie from the outset…

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Dice and Freedom

This week, I have been meditating on freedom. It started Monday, when Beedo recounted how his players managed to turn Strahd into dust. He then followed that with a meditation on The Will of the Dice. For myself, I equated the plethora of choices we have today as RPG players with a golden age of our hobby.

Let me begin by stating this basic assumption:

If we deny that God is creator and deny that He creates us with His image and likeness (described in part by the concept of inalienable rights), tyranny must necessarily follow.

I say this because if there is no higher power — no unchanging divine creator — who endows us with rights, it falls to humanity and governments to bestow rights. Inevitably, this means the person or group with the biggest gun and the will to use it will determine who has the right to do what and who doesn't. Throughout history, mankind has demonstrated this reality. It is also no surprise that those countries and peoples that most aggressively turned their back on God ended up being some of the bloodiest and most tyrannous in human history.

I would like to apply this basic assumption to our hobby, and, specifically, to the act of rolling the dice. This is counterintuitive, but "slavery to the dice" is actually freedom, not slavery.

In the same way that denying God results in rights being bestowed and taken away by man and therefore tyranny, denying the ability of the dice to determine events in an RPG session results in the GM determining results in a game session. This, while not being anywhere near the deprivation of evil regimes of the present and past, is still a form of tyranny.

Let me explain. When we allow the dice to fall where they may, we actually are validating the choices made by the players. If one or more characters die or a boss villain dies before his time, these are the direct consequences of their choices. By allowing these choices to come to their full fruition by trusting the dice, we enshrine and ensure player freedom. To do otherwise is to not only deny that freedom, but to render player choice meaningless.

I can already hear many of you asking the question, but isn't it an old-school axiom that the DM's word is law? Yes, it is. Referees/DMs/Labyrinth Lords (or whatever you wish to call them) are indeed the final arbiter of the rules and have the final word on what happens inside their world; however, each and every one of us who run an RPG have made the choice to cede that control to our players by the very nature of playing the game. If we wanted total control, we would write short stories, novellas and novels, not play RPGs. The dice are the mechanism by which we cede that control — they are the means by which player choices are validated every time they choose to do something dangerous.

We further choose to cede control of our world to the dice every time we make a roll. When we roll a random encounter or roll a reaction roll we have already made a choice — that we would rather be surprised by the dice rather than making that call ourselves. If you do not want to be surprised, or if there is a result on a table you are unwilling to deal with you do not have to make that roll. You have the power to choose not to roll and just arbitrarily choose the result you want.

By allowing the dice to fall where they may, you are validating your own choice to cede control of your creation to a random table. The reward of this choice is not just surprise, but a chance to be creative enough to make such a random event fit seamlessly into the given situation. If these things weren't so rewarding, why would we do it in the first place?

And now, my tax:

The Tabard of St. Gavril

This unkempt and worn jerkin bears the Cross of St. Gavril and has a short prayer embroidered along the inside seem. Though it appears to be worthless, it radiates of magic. When donned by a Lawful character and the short prayer is recited, the wearer is bestowed with a Bless spell. This effect may be used once per day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We Are Experiencing a Golden Age

For those of you out there that are still wondering why we need any more retro-clones or other iterations of the original FRPG, take a few moments to look at this.

What Evan has demonstrated with his list of rules is the modularity of the retro-clone. Here is a short list of all the rulesets he has cobbled together for his Nightwick Abbey campaign: LL, S&W, LotFP, AEC, AD&D and RC. We all have the the freedom to cobble together our own rules list from even more sources, if we so choose.

It gets better. Not only do we live in the age of the OGL but Dan Proctor has made his rule sets available as .txt files. Therefore, using the plethora publishing software available to us, we can edit these .txt files to reflect our own house rules.

It gets better. We can also save these house rules as a .pdf to distribute to our players. For those that are really ambitious (and have the cash), we can even to go the trouble of publishing these rules via a POD company and see them as a glorious hard cover.

It gets better. Even games that seem to be outliers like Epées & Sorcellerie have great ideas that can be swiped and written into house rules. For example, if anyone wants to convince a grumpy old grognard like myself to switch to AAC, all you have to do is cite E&S and how it gives players the freedom to use their Dex score for an AC if they don't like their armor's AC.

The real beauty, though, is that if I still want to have DAC in order to take advantage of Delta's Target 20 Algorithm (d20 + level + AC + mods ≥ 20), I can make a table converting Dex scores into DAC equivalents and edit that into my own house rules document:
Dex 18 = AC 1
Dex 17 = AC 2
Dex 16 = AC 3
Dex 15 = AC 4
Dex 14 = AC 5
Dex 13 = AC 6
Dex 12 = AC 7
Dex 11 = AC 8
Dex 10 or lower = AC 9
I reiterate: the more the merrier. Why? The more options we have, the more the game becomes ours — the more golden this golden age becomes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

An Attempt at a Finchian Monster

As far as I am concerned, one of the great monster designers in the OSR is Matt Finch (who is beginning a new monster book!). One thing that makes some of his best monsters so awesome is not the damage they do or how cool they look. Some don't even pose that great of a threat in and of themselves. What makes them so entertaining is that they change battlefield conditions — they force players to deal with a changing environment that affects the way they are able to fight and explore the dungeon/wilderness. Though I have promised myself to imitate this design technique, my output in this direction has been anemic. This is an attempt to change that.

Merovingian Hound

But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! — Psalm 22:19-20

Number Appearing: 1d6
% in Lair: 80%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: 5
Move: 12
Hit Dice: 1+1
Attacks: 1d6 + special
Special: see below
Save: F2
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: none
XP: 45

Easily mistaken for some kind of undead creature, Merovingian Hounds are actually a construct, using many of the same techniques used to make golems. They are used by necromancers, vampires and other dark powers as guardians.

Upon a successful attack, a Merovingian Hound will lock its jaws upon its victim and begin emanating a piercing noise somewhere between a whine and a growl. This is will result in an immediate wandering monsters check, with a 50% chance of success. Until the noise is stopped, the party will be subject to this wandering monster check every turn. This noise will continue until the hound lets go of its victim, even in death.

The hound will only let go if its victim is killed, even if the hound itself is reduced to 0hp. These victims will take no further damage, but will have their movement rate cut in half. If anyone attempts to cut the victim free, the victim will take 1d6 damage and must make a save vs. death. If successful, the victim is free of the jaw. If not, the procedure must be done again, doing another 1d6 damage. The only way to force a Merovingian Hound to let go of one of its victims is to pour a vial of holy water on it.

Being a type of golem, Merovingian Hounds are immune to sleep, charm and hold spells as well as fire and cold attacks. Electric attacks will heal them. Further, they may only be hit by silver and magic weapons.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Julia the Virginmartyr of Carthage

One of the saints remembered today is St. Julia the Virginmartyr of Carthage. Born into a Christian family, she was captured by Persians when she was still a girl and sold into slavery. Though her master was a pagan, she served him faithfully and maintained her faith through fasting and prayer. No amount of cajoling by her master could convince her to turn away from Christ.

One day, her master set off to Gaul in order to sell his wares and took St. Julia along. He decided to stop off at the island of Corsica in order to take part in a pagan feast. When the locals found out that St. Julia stayed behind on the ship, they got her master drunk with wine. Once he and his companions were asleep, they stole St. Julia from the ship and crucified her when she refused to denounce Christ.

At her death, an angel appeared to the monks of a nearby monastery. They went, recovered her body and prepared it for a reliquary. Today her relics are at a woman's monastery in Breschia (Italy).


Since the island of Corsica is off the coast of France, I feel a little bit justified in some of the work I've done based on the story of St. Julia. I threw together a simple map based off of Corsica:

I've only keyed two things: the monastery and what I've called the "Crash Site." The island is mostly wilderness with very few inhabitants other than the monks. They recently observed a strange fire from the sky crash down upon their island. Since then, they have seen strange things. The river that they use for water has changed color several times. There are mysterious lights that appear from the mountains where the fire fell from the sky. Some of the hermits attached to the monastery have reported seeing strange white-haired ape-like creatures moving through the forest.

The monastery itself is named after a martyr saint. Her death was revealed to the monks by an angel. That angel has been known to reappear in times of tribulation to bring protection, healing and comfort.

Here are a couple of inspirational photos that might be the basis for and island based monastery:

Although the one above is beautiful and can actually be found in Corsica, I think I prefer the simplicity and practicality of this fortified monastery:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Longhaired Ghoul

In light of how many monsters Holmes includes in his Sample Dungeon that do not appear in his Monster section, I decided that I had better start making a few creatures for use in my version of the Chateau des Faussesflammes. For ease of use, I am using my modified version of the LL stat block.

Merovingian Ghoul

If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit…" my child, do not follow them in their way — Proverbs 1:11-12;15

Number Appearing: 1d4
% in Lair: 20%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: 4
Move: 9
Hit Dice: 2 (turn as 3 HD)
Attacks: by weapon
Special: see below
Save: F2
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: XXI
XP: 47

These vile creatures are sometimes mistaken for vampires, due to their habit of drinking the blood of their victims; however, they are merely the undead soldiers of the Black Queen. From a distance, they appear as normal fighting-men — dressed in armor bearing the Black Queen's heraldic crown and armed with a variety of weapons (the Two-Handed Sword is most common). From up close, however, their near featureless faces and blood red eyes can be seen beneath long locks of hair.

There is only one way to permanently kill a Merovingian Ghoul: cut short its hair. Otherwise, 2d6 turns after being reduced to 0hp, it will reanimate with full hp and then relentlessly hunt down and seek revenge against the one who delivered the felling blow. When on such a hunt, the burning hate within them results in supernatural strength. All attacks and damage are made at +2.

Although they need not make morale checks, when fighting in groups, they are known to retreat when one or more of them have been "killed," taking their "dead" with them so that they might hunt with supernatural strength once their comrades have reanimated.

As undead, they are unaffected by the spells charm person, sleep, or hold person.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Stocking a Dungeon

Holmes famously wrote this piece of advice:
As a guideline, it should take a group of players from 6 to 12 adventures before any of their characters are able to gain sufficient experience to attain second level.
If we add up all of the available XP in the Sample Dungeon in Holmes by totaling all of the treasure and non-wandering monsters found in encounter areas, we arrive at a number somewhere around 5500 (some treasure and encounters are variable), with approximately 4600 of that coming from treasure.

When describing wandering monsters and advising on what numbers to use, Holmes says this:
First level adventurers encountering monsters typically found on the first level of a dungeon should be faced with roughly equal numbers, i.e. a party of three would encounter 2-6 orcs, 3-12 giant rots, etc.
Intriguingly, the numbers Holmes uses for his example Wandering Monster Table fall into this given range for a party of three! This is important because the number of monsters found in the encounter areas of the Sample Dungeon roughly fall into this range as well (for example, 4 pirates or 2d4 giant rats). In other words, the expected party size for the Sample Dungeon is approximately three PCs.

The Sample Dungeon, however, has enough available XP to allow at least some of those hypothetical PCs to get to second level. This means that, on average, about four new rooms are going to be explored per expedition into the dungeon (if you accept that it will take 6 expeditions by a party of three to explore the whole dungeon and therefore earn enough XP for many in the party to gain second level).

Whether or not you or I think that this is a realistic ratio is irrelevant (for now), because the reason I am doing all of this geeky math is to arrive at an XP per room ratio based on Holmes' Sample Dungeon. I am interested in trying to find a baseline for how much treasure a Holmesian dungeon has for the purposes of stocking my own version of the Chateau des Faussesflammes. Whereas Holmes does an excellent job of following his own advice for the number of encounter areas and encounter strength, he doesn't really give much advice for placing treasure, other than point to the random treasure tables.

There is only one problem with that. Take a look at the list of monsters he has stocked his Sample Dungeon with:

  • Skeletons*
  • Fighter, 2nd level
  • Magic-user, 4th level
  • Giant Rats*
  • "Enormous" Spider (6HD!)
  • Giant Crab
  • Pirates
  • Skeleton (with 7hp, meaning it is at least 1HD rather than the normal 1/2HD)
  • Octopus
  • Giant Snake
  • Ghouls*
  • Ape

Only those marked with an asterisk are listed in the Monster section. [Note: I am operating with the version of the rules I own, which is an early edition.]

I take two things out of this:

  1. Holmes seems to be encouraging DMs to make up their own monsters.
  2. I have to do all this crazy math in order to figure out what an appropriate amount of treasure is.

To that end, I have two approaches:

  1. Gold pieces per room: This works out be be approximately 100gp per character. (Of course this is a ratio and the actual treasure will not be found in every room — especially since a third of all rooms are specifically empty.)
  2. Gold pieces per HD of monster: This works out to be about 150gp per HD. (Likewise, not every monster will have treasure.)

I am currently working on a dungeon level with about 38 rooms and approximately 65HD worth of monsters (using the example Wandering Monster table, which assumes a party of three). Using the first method, I arrive at 11,400gp (38 rooms x 100gp x 3 characters). Using the second method, I get 9,750gp (65HD x 150 gp).

This produces a nice range, and provides me with a reasonable "stingy" number as well as a reasonable "generous" number that falls within the range of XP per room of Holmes' Sample Dungeon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Merovingian Role Call

So, being a bit of a history geek, I have been doing some light research on the Merovingian Kings of France. Therein I found some wonderfully evocative stories, both real and legendary. I did so with the intention of adding weight and depth to the characters of The Court of the Crimson King, which are central themes for my version of the Chateau des Faussesflammes. Here are some of the results:

Crimson King

There is an intriguing legend about Merovich, the founder of the Merovingian Dynasty. It seems that his mother was raped by a fiendish monster known as the Quinotaur (which literally means five-horned). One of the consequences of this heritage is that Merovich is the first vampire. Both of these stories fit very nicely with the title Crimson King.

Black Queen

Brunhilde was a Visigoth princess and an Arian who converted to the Catholic faith when she married Sigebert I of Austrasia. Though she was hailed as a stalwart Catholic by such luminaries as St. Gregory of Tours, she eventually earned a reputation for avarice and cruelty and stood at the center of several conflicts over succession. I need a lamia to haunt the environs of the Chateau, and Brunhilde fits the bill quite nicely as someone tempted by power — especially the fiendish kind that spawned the Crimson King.

The Purple Piper

St. Gregory of Tours is part of the Marovingian line. Therefore, he was a royal who gave up nobility in order to take up the cloth and preach the Gospel. Since purple is a royal color, he fits the role of the Purple Piper (someone who leads in unexpected ways) quite nicely.

The Pilgrim

It was through the faith of St. Coltilda that the Merovingians became Christian. She, therefore, makes a good Pilgrim (using its original meaning of a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons).

The Gardener

King Clovis I was the first Christian Merovingian king. There is a legendary story about his decision to embrace Christ: he was granted the vision of an angel giving him a flower. The fleur-de-lis has been the heraldic symbol of France ever since. Given this horticultural symbolism, I thought he might make a good Gardener.

The Pattern Juggler

The Merovingians actually had several kings ruling over various sections of there territory. Despite this, they collectively were considered one political unit — much like the Roman Empire when it was under multiple emperors. As one might expect, this led to a lot of internal conflict (as exemplified by Brunhilde). This suggests a singular figure who suffers from multiple personalities, many of whom are in direct conflict with other personalities. The Pattern Juggler would have a love/hate relationship with the Black Queen.

The Yellow Jester

King Childeric was the last of the Merovingian kings. He was also a puppet. The real rulers were the founders of the Carolingian dynasty, who prior to their ascension to the thrown were Mayors of the Palace. Yellow suggests sickness, decline and the setting sun. Since the Yellow Jester smiles as the puppets dance, I think the puppet Childeric fills the role quite nicely.

The Fire Witch

I did not find any historic correlation for the Fire Witch; however, I quite like to think that she had something to do with the summoning of the Quinotaur, of which the broken bells play a part…

For the purposes of having a fantasy version of each, here are the versions of all these names I plan on using:
  • Merovich = Merovic
  • Brunehilde = Brunehaut
  • Gregory = Gregor
  • Clotilda = Iotilda
  • Clovis = Chlodovic
  • Childeric = Kildervic

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fun with Vertical Geomorphs

Back in April, Jeff Rients threw down a challenge to all the geomorph artists of the OSR to make a vertical style of geomorph for the purposes of creating cross-sections of dungeons. A few months on, and there are now a plethora of "vertical geomorphs" available. As I move forward in working on my own version of the Chateau des Faussesflammes, it occurs to me that using this new OSR resource will be a huge boon.

The Chateau and the Court of the Crimson King have a demi-planar existence that makes it appear as if several different times and places co-exist in the same place. On certain days and certain times, it might be possible to find whole sections of dungeon that are not accessible at other days and times. A fantastic way to simulate this easily is with vertical geomorphs. Using several produced by Dyson Logos, here is the basic layout for an ongoing Chateau-megadungeon:

Since this is generated entirely out of vertical geomorphs, it will be an easy thing to substitute other geomorphs in one or more sections to produce dungeon levels that co-exist in the same space but are only accessible at certain times. Thus, there will be an entire class of treasure maps (which I plan to generously seed all over the dungeon) that will map out time rather than space.

As an aside, there are two things I really like about this particular cross-section:
  • At first glance, the dungeon is really very small. Despite there being multiple entrances to multiple parts of the megadungeon, most are secret. This gives me the ability to peek player curiosity about the rest of the dungeon through treasure maps.
  • I also like the fact that there is a section of the megadungeon (keyed areas 28-31) where going up results in finding a more dangerous area of the dungeon.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saintly Saturday: Icon of the Mother of God of Cyprus

The first Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church is called The Triumph of Orthodoxy. On this day, the Orthodox Church celebrates the restoration of the icons to the Churches after Iconoclasm. [For those interested, I have written about this in another Saintly Saturday post]. In the liturgical texts of the following week, according to the Greek textual tradition, there is a story about an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) in Cyprus. The style of this icon depicts the Theotokos sitting on a thrown with the Christ child on her lap with angels on either side. Today marks one of the days that this icon is commemorated.

According to the Greek Synaxarion, this icon adorned the gates of a Church dedicated to the Theotokos. A certain Arab was passing by and he decided to demonstrate his disdain and hatred of Christianity. So, he shot an arrow into the icon. The arrow struck the Virgin's knee, which immediately began to bleed. Overcome by fear, the Arab tried to flee for his home, but dropped dead before he got there.

This is not a unique phenomenon. Bleeding icons can be found all over the world. In fact, I have seen one myself. It reinforces the theological understanding of icons — through the grace of the Holy Spirit, icons manifest the personal presence of Christ and His saints.


Bleeding Icons

These rare objects were once normal religious icons — simply paint on wood — positioned by the faithful in a place where the saint depicted might be a guardian. Many were at one time on gates, doors or over some kind of entrance. The story usually unfolds that during an attack, one of the invaders strikes the icon with a weapon as if to attack the person depicted in the icon. It then starts to bleed and the invaders run away in fear.

A Bleeding Icon has the ability to affect one of the following types of monsters:
1 Berserkers
2 Brigands
3 Bugbears
4 Dwarves (including Gnomes & Grey Dwarves)
5 Elves (including Drow)
6 Gnolls
7-8 Goblins
9-10 Hobgoblins
11 Kobolds
12 Lizardfolk
13 Locathahs
14 Morlocks
15-16 Orcs
17 Ogres
18 Pirates
19 Sahuagin
20 Troglodytes
The character wielding the Bleeding Icon has the ability to Turn this type of monster as a cleric of the same level Turns Undead. A result of 'D' on the Turn table indicates that the target dies of fright.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I cannot claim to be a gear- or petrol-head in any way shape or form. Nonetheless, Top Gear is probably my favorite TV show on today. I find it fascinating, hysterical and wildly entertaining in a way very little produced for TV can. I have thus gleefully been spending down time watching past seasons on Netflix. I mention this because when the Stig is driving various cars that I'll probably never see let alone lay my hands on, they make a habit of mentioning what he is listening to on the car stereo. Each season has its own theme. One such theme is Prog Rock.

I was born too late in order to experience Prog Rock in its prime; however, that doesn't mean it didn't loom large in the musical landscape of my youth — especially the background noise of my formative RPG years. In a fit of nostalgia, I got online and watched a documentary about British Prog Rock by the BBC. Therein I encountered a band and a song that had somehow escaped my notice all of these years. Here are the lyrics of The Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson:

The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.
I walk a road, horizons change
The tournament's begun.
The purple piper plays his tune,
The choir softly sing;
Three lullabies in an ancient tongue,
For the court of the crimson king.

The keeper of the city keys
Puts shutters on the dreams.
I wait outside the pilgrim's door
With insufficient schemes.
The black queen chants
the funeral march,
The cracked brass bells will ring;
To summon back the fire witch
To the court of the crimson king.

The gardener plants an evergreen
Whilst trampling on a flower.
I chase the wind of a prism ship
To taste the sweet and sour.
The pattern juggler lifts his hand;
The orchestra begin.
As slowly turns the grinding wheel
In the court of the crimson king.

On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.

Given that my now months-long thought experiment with the Holmes Basic Edition originated with the question of what would my version of D&D look like if I only had Holmes and Cook available, it occurs to me that I also ought to include some hypothetical sources of inspiration (I have already begun to do this with CAS and Averoigne). Given that most of my RPG friends and I listened to various parts of the Prog Rock scene, I think it entirely appropriate to use The Court of the Crimson King as a lyrical source for my own version of the Chateau des Faussesflammes.

As I look at the lyrics, I see four different ways this song could be the foundation of a really interesting megadungeon campaign:

  • Note the line "Three lullabies in an ancient tongue." When juxtaposed with the summoning of a fire witch, it paints a picture of a Classical Civilization within the Holmesian cultural landscape — pagan and seeking out the powerful arcane knowledge of the ancients. This provides a solid timeline and cultural background for the Chateau.
  • There are eight distinct characters that are named within the text. If the lyrics of the song are understood to be a cryptic description of the megadungeon, each of these characters, then, can be the inspiration or theme for one or more levels within the megadungeon:
  1. The Purple Piper
  2. The Crimson King
  3. The Pilgrim
  4. The Black Queen
  5. The Fire Witch
  6. The Gardener
  7. The Pattern Juggler
  8. The Yellow Jester
  • There are two subtitles for the song: The Return of the Firewitch and The Dance of the Puppets. Both suggest potential events waiting to be triggered (at the ringing of the cracked bell?) by foolish groups of adventurers.
  • Finally, there is also an implied mystery: who is the narrator? He, too, can inspire an entire dungeon level where knowing his true identity can be the key to finding a great treasure and/or the key to survival.
I am sure there will be those who will point out that Peter Sinfield coined the name of the band (and therefore the song) as a synonym for Beezlebub, the prince of demons. Therefore, there might be some question as to whether or not this song is appropriate as a source of inspiration for a Christian-themed campaign. Personally, I have no problem with demons being a part of my FRPGs — as long as they fill their proper role of adversary and monster. Besides, if the Crimson King is somehow affiliated with the prince of demons, then the identity of the Narrator has even more import.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rethinking Charisma and Wisdom

This is the time of year that the Orthodox Church is reading St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. I mention this, because I've been pouring over the original Greek and ran into this word: χάρισμα. Those of us who have spent any time in the hobby will immediately recognize its English progeny: charisma. What we won't recognize, however, is its meaning. Whereas we see charisma being related to attractiveness, charm and leadership qualities, χάρισμα means a gift freely given.

This got me thinking about characteristics and what they mean. In OD&D there is a kind of nice symmetry with the six characteristics. Three are prime requisites corresponding to the three base classes and which affect XP acquisition. The other three have a mechanic related (directly or indirectly) to combat. Constitution affects Hit Points, Dexterity affects missile combat and Charisma affects the number of henchmen one can bring to bear and how loyal they are.

The introduction of the Thief class disrupts this symmetry. If there is one thing about the Holmes edition that really irks me, it is that the prime requisite for Thieves has two mechanical bonuses (XP and missile fire) while every other class only gets one (XP).

As I see it, there are two ways to fix this:

  1. Do what was done in later editions of the game — give more mechanical bonuses to the other three prime requisites. There are two consequences to this approach (neither of which I am fond of). Intelligence gets short shrift in combat. Outside of extra languages, more spells, and/or skill bonuses Intelligence never really gets to shine once swords are drawn. Charisma becomes a dump stat. As characters gain more and more mechanical benefits for high ability scores, they become more and more robust. Therefore, the need to have henchmen in order to survive (especially at lower levels) disappears.
  2. The other option is to use χάρισμα as a jumping off point to redefine the ability scores in order to maintain the prime requisite's primary function as XP modifier.

The root word of χάρισμα is χάρις (charis) which is often translated as grace. In Paul, it is most often encountered is its plural form χαρίσματα (charismata) or gifts. The implication is that God freely pours out His grace upon us, and this manifests itself as gifts — preaching, teaching, etc. Given that the source of the Cleric's abilities —spells and turning — are granted by a divine power (God), it seems to me that Charisma is a better fit for a prime requisite than Wisdom for the Cleric.

Though Wisdom literally means the quality of being wise, that is not how it is used mechanically in later editions of the game. Rather, it is used to grant bonuses to saves vs. spells and to awareness-type skills. This mechanical expression more closely resembles an Orthodox Christian theological notion called the nous.

The word nous is difficult to translate. The best way I have found is the idea of receptive intelligence. When we have "aha!" moments, or instantaneous sparks of inspiration that is the nous in action. In other words, it is that part of us that is spiritually and physically aware of our surroundings. It receives information and processes it in a way that our reason cannot. Given that one of the primary functions of the Thief us to be aware of their surroundings, Wisdom (ironically) can become the prime requisite of Thieves, if it is understood to be the nous. In order to avoid the mental dissonance of criminal activity and being wise, I might be tempted to rename the ability Awareness.

Therefore, we now have four prime requisites: Strength, Intelligence, Charisma and Awareness. They all have the primary mechanical function of affecting XP; however, in order to do this Charisma must be stripped of the henchman mechanics. Either that, or the mechanic can be spread across all of the prime requisites.

I come to this from the perspective that when we think of great leaders, we will most often find people who have great skill in their chosen field. Alexander the Great was a great military mind. Pope John Paul II was a great theological mind. Bill Belichick, while not being very charismatic, certainly has a great football mind. Thus, when it comes to attracting and keeping hirelings, having a high prime requisite can represent that great mind found in the likes of Alexander the Great, Pope John Paul II and Bill Belichek.

One could go further and say that each prime requisite affects the loyalty of its given class. Thus, a magic user with a high Intelligence would have better loyalty from magic user hirelings than fighting-men. The reverse would be true of a fighting-man with high strength.

Therefore, the highest prime requisite score would determine the max number of hirelings total that can be hired. Strength would determine the highest number of fighting-men and their loyalty. Intelligence would would determine the highest number of magic users and their loyalty. Charisma would determine the highest number of clerics and their loyalty. Awareness would determine the highest number of Thieves and their loyalty.

The end result of this retooling of characteristics is a return to the symmetry of OD&D, where all prime requisites grant the same bonus to every class and where Dexterity and Constitution grant the same combat bonuses to every class.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dave's Mapper

I just wanted to let folks know that I contacted Dave of Dave's Mapper and he was kind enough to include my Holmesian geomorphs into his ever expanding and very cool resource. Go check it out. Here are a couple of examples, the first using just using my own geomorphs, and the second one using a combo of mine with those of Risus Monkey. Enjoy:

Monday, July 4, 2011

More Holmesian Geomorphs: Caverns, Odd Shapes and 45° Angles

Here are the last two "sheets" of geomorphs I plan to do for the time being. Every dungeon needs caverns and every old-school dungeon needs odd shaped rooms and at least a few 45° angles. Enjoy:

Happy Independence Day!

As someone who is very much interested in history and as someone who is very interested in examining texts, I hope you'll indulge me as I spend some time on this 4th of July doing something that I wish more would do — reading and examining the document whose signing we are celebrating today:
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
This is an 18th century way of saying that you don't just start a revolution without explaining why.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The Founding Fathers are setting forth their presuppositions — those things that they all see as true and fundamental. If one is honest, these truths are only self-evident from a Christian world view. God is the source of life. God is ultimately free, therefore, being made in His image and likeness we are free and have free will. True equality can only be accomplished in Christ, who shares our humanity and loves us all — despite all the obvious inequality that exists between us. The Pursuit of Happiness is probably the most misunderstood. It does not equal hedonism, rather the ability to use one's time, resources and skills to pursue a vocation that one wants. Wrapped up into this is the idea that this vocation will not only benefit the individual, but the family, the community and humanity as a whole. This has a striking resemblance to St. Paul's image of the Church as the Body of Christ.
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
We get the government we deserve.
That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Note again that sticky word happiness — here it means to ability to affect the overall well-being of society and humanity.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
This is a passage I really find quite interesting. The Founding Fathers only did this reluctantly. They were willing to suffer evil as British citizens and would have rather remained within the confines of the British Empire — those forms which they were accustomed. It is also an admonishment to all those who would start a revolution — don't do it unless you can demonstrably prove that the evil suffered under the current government is truly insufferable.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
The word I find interesting here is duty. If government is evil — if it actively and consistently denies the image and likeness of God in its citizens — we have an obligation to make sure that the government changes.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
This begins the longest section of the Declaration of Independence where the Founding Fathers set out to prove that the British Crown has indeed committed insufferable evil. They list over 25 abuses of King George III. We always remember unfair taxation, but there are worse. For example:
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
For brevity, I won't quote them here but I encourage all to read them through.
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states;that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;
This is the declarative statement. Having set out their argument that given self-evident truths and that the government of Britain has abused its citizens in the colonies, it is right and just that the U.S. declare its independence and set up its own form of government. Note the phrase "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world." This is a title given to Christ. This again demonstrates the assumed Christian world-view that is the foundation of this document.
and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.
This is an interesting historical reality that we don't appreciate in the post-Civil War era. Note that the Founding Fathers understood at this time that the Thirteen Colonies were thirteen separate states all with the independent power to declare war, etc. Prior to the Civil War we referred to ourselves as These United States, not The United States.
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
Note how this statement paints a relational image of the Cross. They rely upon God through the protection of Divine Providence, indicating a vertical relationship with God. They pledge to each other — indicating a horizontal relationship with their fellow human beings. The result of this pledge was sacrifice. Many of the men who signed the Declaration did indeed give to their new country their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. They picked up their cross so that those who followed might know freedom and liberty. In other words, they lived out the words of Christ — He who willingly went to the Cross for our salvation:
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
May we all follow.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

More Holmesian Geomorphs: The Great Chasm

Another of my favorite dungeon design tropes is The Pit, seen here in the Sample Cross Section found in Holmes:

The idea is to give an adventuring party easy access to lower levels without having to trudge through all those levels in between. My favorite iteration of this is what I like to call The Great Chasm. In essence, it is a giant crack in the earth that cannot be crossed without aid — such as a bridge or a spell. What I really like about this iteration is the image of looking down (or up) and seeing various bridges below (and/or above) connecting different parts of different levels. Thus, I wanted some geomorphs that would allow me the ability to have The Great Chasm be a part of my version of the Chateau des Faussesflammes. Using these, I'll be able to include it on several dungeon levels. Enjoy:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Juvenal

Today is the Feast of St. Juvenal, who was originally a mining engineer in Russia; however, when his wife died in 1791, he became a monk at a monastery in St. Petersburg. After three years, he was sent to Alaska. Yes. Alaska. We tend to forget that the Russians discovered Alaska in 1741 and had a permanent settlement on Kodiak Island by 1784.

St. Juvenal was an enthusiastic missionary and was very successful with the Yupik, especially the Chugach. Due in large part to his work, to this day Alaska has a larger Orthodox Christian population per capita than any other state in the U.S.

In 1796 he was martyred near the mouth of the Kuskokwim by a hunting party. No one is certain why St. Juvenal was murdered, but the natives later told St. Innocent of Alaska that St. Juvenal did not defend himself nor did he try to run away. Rather, he begged his murderers to repent. After beating him severely, they left him for dead. He got up and started to follow them, again, begging them to repent. They beat him again, sure that they killed him. But again, St. Juvenal came to his feet and cried out to them to repent. This repeated itself several times. Finally, the hunting party hacked the saint into pieces. Thus, he became the first Orthodox martyr on American soil.

Years ago, I worked with a woman who grew up in Alaska. She wrote and drew an indie comic book that I once owned but have long since misplaced during all the moves I have made over the years. The story took place in a fantasy world inspired by the mythology of the Inuit peoples of Alaska that she grew up surrounded by. [For those of you who are interested, I cannot pull the name of the book out of my mind, nor did a Google search refresh my memory. Sorry.]

I remember thinking at the time, that Alaska is an untapped resource of inspiration for those of us who play FRPGs. Reading up on St. Juvenal only reinforced this idea. It has all the markers of a classic sandbox. There is a vast, unexplored wilderness at the edge of an empire. There is a type of Keep on the Borderland at Kodiak Island where adventurers go out and encounter natives both friendly and hostile while trying to make the wilderness safe for civilization.

To boot, Inuit mythology has just as many cool monsters to harass our stalwart adventures as anything in our hobby. For example:

  • Nennorluk — a sea monster of gigantic proportions with white fur on its back, ears as large as tents and capable of swallowing people whole.
  • Mahaha — long-clawed cold demons.
  • Taqriaqsuit — shadow people who live in a parallel dimension.
  • Qallupilluk — sea-dwelling child snatchers.
  • Inupasugjuk — giants of the frozen north.
  • Tuniit — the original inhabitants of the land who might not be too bright, but are very strong.

If that isn't enough to whet your appetite, check out this fantastic site.

Unfortunately, I do not have the time, nor the players to justify working on such a campaign at the moment, but this is definitely one of those pseudo-historical campaigns I've always wanted to do. For those so inclined, here are a couple of beautiful maps to get you started:

Friday, July 1, 2011

More Holmesian Geomorphs: Tombs and Rivers

Here is another set. HPL mentions that there are crypts underneath the Chateau des Faussesflammes, so I need some geomorphs that double as catacombs. One of the tropes of dungeon exploration that I truly love is the underground river. Therefore, I supplied myself with several geomorphs that can connect to make one or more of them. Enjoy: