Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Marcellus the Abbot

Today is the feast of St. Marcellus the Abbot. Born in Syria, he was brought up in a rich family that provided for an excellent education. This led him to seek the monastic life. Around A.D. 460 he succeeded St. Alexander as the abbot of the Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones in the city of Constantinople. It was so called because St. Alexander had created a prayer rule where the monks took St. Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) literally. They worked in shifts and when services were not being held, the Psaltery was chanted so that prayer never ceased while the monastery operated.

In terms of inspiration for an RPG, need I say it again?

The Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones

If that does not inspire a desire to go and try your hand at a megadungeon, I don’t know what will. For those of you who are uncomfortable with using a name of an actual monastery that produced saints, know that history has not only seen invaders close down the monastery, but there are plenty of examples throughout history of various governments aggressively destroying monasteries (King Henry VIII, for example).

When it comes to conflicts between church and state, monasteries have historically been hot beds of opposition. It is therefore a natural inclination of the tyrant to wipeout this opposition.

Thus, the back story of the monastery need only answer two questions and still pay homage to the original:

  1. In a world of monsters and sin personified, what were the monks protecting the world from with their constant prayer? Is there a gate kept closed by the monks? Is some cthuloid horror bound somewhere beneath? What other monsters were kept dormant? Were the monks the equivalent of a Sussuruss that kept an army of undead asleep (and therefore add another meaning to the name Unsleeping Ones)?
  2. What prompted the closure of the monastery? Did a king come into conflict with the monks over doctrine? Was there an invading army that had no idea what lay within? Did some evil specifically seek out what the monks were guarding against?

Answer these, and all one needs is a good map and a willing group of adventurers...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fighter Titles for Averoigne Part 5

This last installment of this series is for those who do not hear the high calling implied by the other organizations that fighters can be a part of.

Mercenary Guild

Averoigne is sparsely populated and the ability of a noble to raise a decent sized army or maintain any kind of standing army is nigh-impossible. Mercenaries are a necessity for the protection of realm. The Mercenary Guild is officially recognized as an attempt to bring order to the process of hiring mercenaries and making sure that not only are the contracts fair, but that they are not broken. Unless a mercenary has earned the right to break a contract with good cause, all contracts must be carried out to the full before a mercenary may seek other work; however, all members are protected by the guild and if abuse is reported a noble loses the right to negotiate with guild members.

All mercenaries wear the symbol of a chain. This chain comes in two forms: broken and unbroken. The first is an indication that the mercenary is not currently under contract. The latter indicates that they are.
    4. Bond Sword — A Bond Sword has the right to enter into a contract at the guild’s minimum wage. As a sign of their status, they may wear the symbol of a black chain.
    5. Oath Sword — An Oath Sword has the right to enter into a contract and may negotiate the wage. As a sign of their status, they may wear the symbol of a silver chain.
    6. Free Sword — A Free Sword has the right to break a contract for good cause (as is determined by the guild). As a sign of their status, they may wear the symbol of a gold chain.
    7. Mercenary Sergeant — A Mercenary Sergeant chooses an animal as their personal symbol and has the right to wear a heraldic head of the animal. In addition, the Mercenary Sergeant has the right to represent a small group of men (5-10) who are non-guild members to enter into a contract at minimum wage. They must wear the Mercenary Sergeant’s symbol as a sign of that contract.
    8. Mercenary Captain — A Mercenary Captain has the right to wear their heraldic animal passant (“striding" to the viewer’s left). In addition, the Mercenary Captain has the right to represent a large group of men (10-50) who are non-guild members to enter into a contract at minimum wage. They must wear the Mercenary Captain’s symbol as a sign of that contract.
    9. Mercenary Commander — A Mercenary Commander attracts a group of mercenary followers and has the right to found a Mercenary Company which bears his personal symbol. He has the right to negotiate the price of contracting the company and may also break this contract under good cause (determined by the guild). Their personal symbol is normally worn rampant (rearing up).
For those interested, here is an example of what the heraldry of a mercenary might look like:

Like the Adventurer's Guild, these Level Titles are not exclusively for fighters; however (besides assassins) the majority of member are fighters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Heraldry for the Fighters of Averoigne

When writing the Level Titles for the Black Swords, I was forced to use language to detail their heraldry that is both difficult to describe and most likely unfamiliar to those who do not have heraldry as one of their hobbies. I had also used some of that language in other entries of the series, but was unsatisfied by my descriptions. Thus, rather then rely on the written word, I quickly drew up the various heraldic symbols of all the various Level Titles that I have described over the last several posts. Enjoy:

Fighter Titles for Averoigne Part 4

I continue with my series of posts on Level Titles for fighters in my version of Averoigne. Please note that the Level Titles of the first three levels are generic for all fighters and include (in order): Veteran, Man-at-Arms and Swordsman.

Black Swords

The Black Swords are the military arm of the Black Monks, one of three main monastic orders in Averoigne. The Black Monks are curiously more politically active than the White Monks, but less politically powerful. After the fall of Rome, it was the Church that symbolized Civilization and protected the people. Since the Black Monks often have monasteries in or near urban areas, it was these monasteries that became centers for the survival of civilization. To this day, most villages and towns see the local abbot as the unofficial town leader and the Black Swords as unofficial militia and protectors. In contrast with the White Monks and Swords, however, the Black Monks and Swords largely operate independently of the Archbishop. While they have his blessing to run their monasteries, their origin and main influence is in the Eastern Empire. Thus, the White Monks are more politically powerful.
    4. Squire — A Squire is tonsured as a monk and takes on the name of a patron saint. As a sign of their office, they are allowed to wear a black cross on a gold field. They are always welcome at their home monastery where they they do not pay for room or board.
    5. Sergeant — Having developed a closer relationship with their patron saint, a Sergeant carries with them an icon of the Saint. While carrying this icon, the Sergeant has a floating +1 bonus that they may apply to any one die roll during a session. This bonus must be declared before the die roll. As a sign of their office, they may wear a gold cross on a black field.
    6. Knight — Knights are automatically granted refuge at any Black Monk monastery, but are expected to pay their own way after three days. As a sign of their office, they are allowed to wear a gold cross on a black and blue party per bend field.
    7. Turcopolier — As long as they are carrying an icon of their patron saint, Trucopoliers have a floating bonus of +2 which they may split up into two +1 bonuses or use all at once. As a sign of their office, they are allowed to wear a gold cross on a black and blue per saltire field.
    8. Seneschal — Seneschals are automatically granted refuge at any Black Monk monastery without charge. As a sign of their office, they are allowed to wear a gold cross on a black and blue gyrony of eight field.
    9. Grand Commander — Grand Commanders may build a stronghold/monastery. As long as they are carrying an icon of their patron saint, Grand Commaders have a floating bonus of +3 which they split up as they choose over the course of a session. As a badge of their office, As a sign of their office, they are allowed to wear a gold cross on a black and blue gyrony of twelve field.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

O my soul, magnify her who is greater in honor and in glory than the armies of heaven.

I see here a strange and paradoxical mystery. For, behold, the grotto is heaven; cherubic throne is the Virgin; the manger a grand space in which Christ our God the uncontainable reclined as a babe; Whom in extolling do we magnify. — Ode IX of the First Canon of Christmas

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fighter Level Titles for Averoigne Part 3

I continue with my series of posts on Level Titles for fighters in my version of Averoigne. Please note that the Level Titles of the first three levels are generic for all fighters and include (in order): Veteran, Man-at-Arms and Swordsman.

Green Swords

The Green Swords are the military arm of the Green Monks, one of three main monastic orders in Averoigne; however, since the Green Monks are an eremitic order the Green Swords are a lot less of formalized military force than either the White or Black Swords. Rather, they are a loosely organized, but very close group of wandering warriors who seek to right wrongs wherever they find them. Only in times of great crisis do they actually gather to form an actual military unit. This has only happened once in the living memory of most people in Avroigne. Though Green Swords take a vow of silence like any other Green Monk, due to their military role, their vow can be broken for the purposes of preparing for and fighting in a battle. There are some (especially those who actively seek out to right wrongs) who have permission to speak (briefly) when investigating such cases.
    4. Squire — A Squire is tonsured as a monk and is allowed to wear a green Cross on a white field as a sign of their office. When fighting unarmed in combat, the Squire is considered to be armed with a Penetrating Weapon (1d6 at a +1 to hit).
    5. Sergeant — Sergeants have greater access to the healing elixirs of the Green Monks than the average adventurer.* They may divide their white field with a green party per chevron (a diamond shape at the bottom of a shield) as a sign of their office.
    6. Knight — Knights are allowed to wear a white cross on a green field as a sign of their office. In unarmed combat they may also attack as if wielding a Small Weapon (2 attacks per round for 1d4 damage).
    7. Turcopolier — Trucopoliers have regular access to healing elixirs at a slight discount. As a sign of their office, they may wear the symbol of a holly leaf.
    8. Seneschal — When unarmed, Seneschals may fight as if armed with a Heavy Weapon (1d10 damage, but automatically lose initiative). As a badge of their office, they may wear an estoile (a star with wavy points).
    9. Grand Commander — Grand Commanders may build a stronghold/monastery. They also may request elixirs at any time for a discounted price. As a badge of their office, they may wear the symbol of a sun.
*The famous green elixirs of the Green Monks are a rare commodity that are not normally available to the average adventurer. Green Swords, due to their vocation, are given priority over all other potential customers. Even so, the Green Swords are expected to pay (give a generous donation) for this access.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fighter Level Titles for Averoigne Part 2

I continue with my series of posts on Level Titles for fighters in my version of Averoigne. Please note that the Level Titles of the first three levels are generic for all fighters and include (in order): Veteran, Man-at-Arms and Swordsman.

White Swords

The White Swords are the military arm of the White Monks, one of three main monastic orders in Averoigne. They are independent of any government or noble and are answerable only to the Archbishop. The order is led by a Grand Commander assigned for life by the Archbishop and is granted the title Grand Master.
    4. Squire — A Squire is tonsured as a monk and is allowed to wear a white Cross on a black field as a sign of their office. They have free access to the horses of the White Monks (as long as they are well cared for and eventually returned). Squires may request a Light Warhorse.
    5. Sergeant — Sergeants may request a Medium Warhorse. They may add a white chief ordinary (a white stripe across the top) to the black field and white cross as a sign of their office.
    6. Knight — Knights are allowed to wear a black cross on a white field as a sign of their office and may request a Heavy Warhorse.
    7. Turcopolier — Trucopoliers may hear cases in the ecclesiastical court and may request multiple Light Warhorses. As a badge of their office, they may wear a great helm colored white on one side and black on the other.
    8. Seneschal — Seneschals may request multiple Medium Warhorses. As a badge of their office, they may wear a great helm colored white on one side and black on the other and crested with a cross.
    9. Grand Commander — Grand Commanders may build a stronghold/monastery. They may also request multiple Heavy Warhorses. As a badge of their office, they may wear a white great helm crested with a cross.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Anastasia the Great Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Anastasia the Great Martyr. She was born in Rome to a pagan father and a mother who was secretly Christian. As a result, her mother arranged for her teacher to be a Christian and she was brought up in the faith. After the death of her mother, her father arranged a marriage to a pagan.

Using one of her husband’s servants and his wealth, she dressed as a beggar and snuck into prisons in order to minister to the martyrs and confessors during the persecution of Diocletian and ransoming them when she could. The servant eventually told her husband who beat her and locked her up at home. Shortly thereafter, her husband died at sea.

She used her husband’s estate to give to the poor and continue her ministrations to captured Christians. She received the title Great Martyr because she was arrested and tortured several times. The first time, her torturer went blind and died. Out of fear, she was let go. The second time, she was left to starve, but received no harm. She was then sentenced to drown. Along with several other prisoners, she was placed in a boat with holes drilled into the hull. Through her intercessions, she and the other prisoners managed to get the boat to shore. Finally, she was captured, stretched between four pillars and burned alive.

Note the fact that St. Anastasia is depicted holding a bottle. Though her life is quite inspiring (especially when one reads a fuller account which includes some of the names of the martyrs she ministers to), the aspect of her story that fascinates me the most is a secondary title she has received as a result of the miracles worked through her relics — ἡ Φαρμακολύτρια, which literally means the one who ransoms or delivers from potions or poisons and is most often translated as The Deliverer from Potions.

In context of a typical D&D campaign, such a title seems odd since the vast majority of potions are beneficial. Indeed, until the release of Unearthed Arcana (which adds the Elixir of Madness, Oil of Fumbling and the Philter of Stammering and Stuttering) there were only two detrimental potions available: Delusion and Poison. Even then, if one used the random tables found in 0e, there is only a 2% chance of a potion being Delusion and a 4% chance of being Poison. This percentage doesn’t change much when one looks at both B/X (7% and 2% respectively) and AD&D (3% each).

The exception to this pattern is found in (where else?) Holmes. Twenty percent of all potions are either Delusion or Poison (at 10% each). Along with St. Anastasia’s moniker, this suggests an interesting alternative on how to handle potions in a D&D campaign.

One of the frustrations that I have as a Referee running LL is that there is no easy way to handle potions. One either has to keep detailed notes about each and every potion — noting how each is colored and smells, for example (something that I am not at all good at) — or allow players to take a sip and determine what the potion might be. Even if an Identify spell is available (as it is when my group plays AD&D), it seems like such a great waste to use it on a potion. As a result, my use of potions is not nearly as satisfying as I want it to be — especially since I have a bunch of players who regularly use potions when they are available.

What if Magic-Users could automatically identify arcane potions and Clerics could automatically identify divine potions due to their training? Or, if one wanted to cleave closer to Holmes, only Magic-Users could identify all potions. The way to make their use dangerous is to get rid of potions that are specifically Delusion and Poison (and Madness, Fumbling and Stammering) and to give every use of a potion a 20% chance of having a negative side-effect. A table could include the following:
  1. Delusion — the potion does not work, but the imbiber believes that it does.
  2. Delusion — the potion works, but as a randomly determined different potion. The imbiber believes that the effects are as the potion is supposed to work.
  3. Poison — Potion works, but save vs. poison or die in 1d6 days.
  4. Poison — Potion does not work. Save vs. poison or take 1d4 points of damage for 2d6 rounds.
  5. Madness — Potion works, but gain an insanity.
  6. Madness — Potion does not work. Save vs. poison or or gain an insanity.
  7. Curse — Potion works, but imbiber is Cursed.*
  8. Curse — Potion does not work, save vs. spells or be Cursed.*
*Suggested curses can include: Whenever someone fumbles (friend or foe) the cursed character fumbles instead; Henchmen automatically fail their morale check and the character becomes the prime target for all monsters.

This would then create a niche for magical items that protect characters from the negative side-effects of potions. For example:

Amulet of the Pharmakolytria

This silver amulet has an icon of a saint holding a potion. When worn, it reduces the chance of a potion having a negative side effect to 10%.
All of this makes potions a lot more exciting and (more importantly for me) easier for both the Referee and the players to keep track of.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fighter Level Titles for Averoigne Part 1

A little over a year ago, I did a series of posts about utilizing Level Titles in a way that was more integrated into a campaign world. I produced one set for each of the four core classes, mostly reflecting how I would use them in context of my version of Averoigne; however, when it came to fighters, I opted to be more generic than I had been with the other three classes. The results were not very satisfying, but I never went back and wrote any campaign specific level titles — until now.

As I noted in my series of posts on Level Titles,  making them campaign specific can really make them sing. This poses a problem in the case of fighters because they really require more than one set of Level Titles. Though the other three classes are fairly generic, it is easy to justify a single guild structure for each class. Fighters, however, are the most generic of the four classes — they can be anything from a soldier to a barbarian to a gladiator to any number of iterations. Thus, only one set of Level Titles doesn’t do the class justice. This, therefore, is the first post in an attempt to create several options for fighters in Averoigne.

All fighters in Averoigne begin with the same Level Titles for the first three levels (the apprentice stage), after which they may align themselves with one of the various groups which grant Level Titles for higher levels:
    1. Veteran — The term veteran reflects the fact that fighters have already been involved in some kind of fighting or military action.
    2. Man-at-Arms — A man-at-arms is someone who has chosen to live the life of a fighter. In demonstrating this commitment and the amount of skill (and luck) to become a man-at-arms, they are granted the right to publicly bear arms, with the exception of a sword. In most places, however, even man-at-arms are discouraged from wearing armor or carrying more than one weapon in public.
    3. Swordsman* — Swordsmen have earned enough respect that they are allowed to openly carry a sword. They may even wear armor in public without raising too much suspicion.
    *If a character declines to join any of the following groups, they remain a Swordsman regardless of level.


The Chevaliers, also known as The King’s Men, are one of the ways that the King of Salia exerts his influence upon the region. Since there are few Salian nobles in Averoigne and the Averni nobles only give lip service to their loyalty to the crown, the King created a organization that bypasses the authority of the nobility by being answerable directly to him. The Chevaliers are almost exclusively Salian and must swear absolute fealty to the King.
    4. Under-Sheriff — Is given jurisdiction over a village to administer the King’s Law. Has the right to wear a red rose as a sign of office.
    5. Sheriff — Is given jurisdiction over a several villages, a few towns or a small city to administer the King’s Law. Has the right to wear a red rose as a sign of office.
    6. High Sheriff —  Is given jurisdiction over a county to administer the King’s Law. Has the right to wear a white rose as a sign of office.
    7. Marshall — Is given the right to convene a civil court and act as judge. May conscript Under-Sheriffs in order to conduct an investigation. Has the right to wear a fleur-de-lis as a badge of office.
    8. Constable — May conscript Sheriffs on order to conduct an investigation. Has the right to wear two fleur-de-lis as a badge of office.
    9. High Constable — Oversees all legal activity within a region (and attracts/is assigned followers to carry out this duty). Has the right to wear three fleur-de-lis as a badge of office.

Thema Calabria

This is the remnant of a military unit from the Eastern Christian Empire that is now largely autonomous due to being cut off from their original home. The term Thema refers to a military jurisdiction of the Empire. For a brief period, the Eastern Empire had a foothold in the West, headquartered in Syracuse and the Thema was called Calabria. This foothold was overrun, and part of the retreating force found refuge in Averoigne. Today, it is tolerated by the King of Salia due to past service against barbarian incursion and the unit pays lip service to the King; however, its ranks have recently been bolstered by a growing number of Averni dissatisfied with the Salian King and who yearn for a return to the Rome represented by the Eastern Empire.
    4. Dekarchos — While in Averoigne, a Dekarchos can muster 10 men in times of crisis. In addition, they have access to the unit’s armory.* They have the right to wear the unit’s insignia (a stylized golden cross on a red background).
    5. Kentarchos — While in Averoigne, a Kentarchos can muster 50 men in times of crisis. They may wear the Greek Numberal ‘ν’ as part of their badge of office.
    6. Komes — While in Averoigne, a Komes can muster 100 men in times of crisis. They may wear the Greek Numberal ‘ρ’ as part of their badge of office.
    7. Droungarios — Has two Komes and any men they muster under their command. Will be recognized by the Averni people and Averni nobles as a judge in civil disputes. They may wear the Greek Numberal ‘σ’ as part of their badge of office.
    8. Tourmarches — Has six Drouganarios and any men they muster under their command. They may wear the Greek Numberal ‘ισ’ as part of their badge of office.
    9. Strategos — This is the highest rank within the unit. The Strategos will have a personal retinue (attracted followers) and will have four Tourmaches and any men they muster under their command. They may wear a two-headed eagle as part of their badge of office.
* Items like swords and mailed armor are not readily available in Averoigne. While there are armorers, what swords and mails they produce are normally already paid for by nobles who are far more important to the business survival of the armorer than an adventurer. Having access to the unit’s armorer, therefore, makes getting such equipment increasingly easier as the fighter increases in level.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Racial Table for Averoigne

I only was able to play Stormbringer a couple of times in my life (our group always saw it as a challenge to see who could survive rather than as legitimate bait for an ongoing campaign due to the brutality of the system). One of things about it, though, that I remember with great fondness is character creation. Players roll on a race table to determine which of the plethora of backgrounds their character can come from and what possibilities this background provides.

While certainly not as diverse as Elric’s stomping grounds, my version of Averoigne does have a number of different possibilities for character background. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to provide a table for players to roll on to provide some of their character’s background.

Included with each entry is a list of starting equipment (which should help speed character creation). There are also a couple of incentives:
  • The only way to be able to have a character with a noble, scion or half-elf background is to roll on this table.
  • Depending upon the outcome of the roll, a player can outright switch one characteristic for another (where characteristics are rolled in order).
Hopefully, that will be enough encouragement for players to roll:
01-05 Romani — Scimitar + Throwing Daggers + Leather + Shield
06-15 Wolfshead (S): Flail + Sling + Leather + Shield
16-25 Wolfshead (A): Spear + Short Bow + Leather + Shield
26-45 Peasant (S): Polearm + Sling + Leather
46-65 Peasant (A): Polearm + Short bow + Leather
66-71 Burgher (S): Short Sword + Crossbow + Chain + Shield
72-75 Burgher (MS): Long Sword + Crossbow + Chain + Shield
76-81 Burgher (A): Handaxe + Longbow + Chain + Shield
82-85 Burgher (LS): Javelin + Longbow + Chain + Shield
86-88 Noble (S): Bastard Sword + Crossbow + Plate + Shield
89-90 Noble (MS): TH Sword + Crossbow + Plate + Shield
91-93 Noble (A): Battle Axe + Longbow + Plate + Shield
94-95 Noble (LS): Throwing Axe + Longbow + Plate + Shield
96-97 Half-Elf*
98-98 Elf*
99-99 Dwarf*
00-00 Halfling*

*roll again for background & equipment, ignoring 96-00
(A)=Averni (S)=Salian (MS)=Merovingian Scion (LS)=Luernian Scion
  • Romani can swap CON with one other characteristic of the player’s choice.
  • Wolfshead can swap DEX with one other characteristic of the player’s choice.
  • Peasant can swap STR with one other characteristic of the player’s choice.
  • Burgher can swap INT with one other characteristic of the player’s choice.
  • Noble can swap CHA with one other characteristic of the player’s choice.
All characters also get 10gp, a quiver/pouch with 20 arrows/bolts/stones as well as one of the following kits:
  • Kit 1 (10 oil flasks, lantern, spade, 12 iron spikes, 10ft. chain)
  • Kit 2 (10 torches, ink & pen, blank scroll, mirror, crowbar)
  • Kit 3 (five torches, 3 cloves of garlic, fist of wolfsbane, 50 ft. rope, grappling hook, wooden pole)
In addition:
  • Clerics begin with a cross (silver for Nobles and Scions, otherwise wooden) and swap out any non-class melee weapon with a Mace (Averni, Luernian Scion or Romani) or a Warhammer (Salian or Merovingian Scion) and any non-class missile weapon with a sling.
  • Fighters begin with one extra weapon.
  • Magic Users begin with a spell book and can trade out any non-usable weapons and armor for cash.
  • Burglars begin with lock picks and may trade out any armor and shield for leather and extra cash.
Obviously there are a couple of things that need some clarification:
  • Romani are gypsy-like wanderers who call no place home. They may choose to speak one extra language of their choice besides Common.
  • Averni are the native people of Averoigne. They may choose to speak Elvish (Occitan) in addition to Common.
  • Salians are outsiders whose homeland is trying to unite the entire region into a new Holy Roman Empire.
  • Wolfsheads are bandits, outlaws and those who live outside the protection of the feudal system. They are tied to no land and have few loyalties.
  • Peasants are either serfs or freemen who work the land of a local noble.
  • Burghers are middle class merchants.
  • Nobles who adventure are usually younger siblings who have no right to the lands of their father.
  • A Merovingian Scion is someone who either through illegitimate (in the case of Burghers) or legitimate lines can trace their lineage back to the Merovigian kings of the Salians (who are no longer in power).
  • A Luernian Scion is someone who either through illegitimate (in the case of Burghers) or legitimate lines can trace their lineage back to the Luernian kings of the Averni (who are no longer in power).
  • This is meant to be a human-centric campaign world, which is why the chances of being a demi-human are so small. Demi-humans roll twice because they come from a human background, but are fey-touched and have embraced their demi-human status. They can speak their racial tongue (Elvish in the case of halflings) in addition to Common
  • Half-elves are fey-touched who have rejected their demi-human status. They still have some of the demi-human abilities, but suffer penalties when using them. They get to function like the elves of 0e — adventure as either a fighter or a magic user — without the level limits. When they choose to use their demi-human abilities, they suffer an XP penalty and can operate at a maximum of 8th level, regardless of XP.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Languages of Averoigne

As I have admitted in the past, one of things that I have really come to appreciate from the 3.5 SRD is the way that it handles languages. It lists both a standard group of languages (Common, Ork, Elvish, etc.) and the alphabet that it uses. This way not only is there a common group upon which to understand how language is used across different campaigns, but how different languages are related (and thus reveal cultural realities about the world). This format, of course, is easily adaptable and customizable for different campaigns.

I mention this, because one of the fallow projects that I am most interested in finishing is my work with my own version of Averoigne. I have found that using the SRD understanding of language to be very useful both in terms of harking back to a Holmesian understanding of humanoids and for the purposes of building a rich cultural background. Here is a table with the SRD languages/alphabets in brackets followed by the languages they represent within my version of Averoigne:
[Celestial] Greek
[Common] Latin — Salic, Church Latin
[Draconic] Norn
[Dwarven] German — Dwarven, Gnomish, Goblin, Kobold
[Elvish] Celtic — Occitan, Elvish, Orc, Hobgoblin, Gnoll
[Infernal] Gothic
I made Celestial the equivalent of Greek, because that is the language of both the Gospel and the Christian Empire, which now only exists in its original form in the East. Rome has fallen and the Christian peoples of the West are now trying to pick up the pieces.

Common, therefore, is the various forms of Latin. Salic is a fantasy version of proto-French spoken by the Salians (which is the original tribal name for what would be become the Franks). They represent those outsiders in Averoigne whose answer to the fall of Rome is to create a new Holy Roman Empire based in Salia (which lies somewhere northwest of Averoigne). Church Latin is a more archaic version of the Common tongue.

Draconic is represented by Norn, another real world language found in Scotland; however, I am playing with double meaning of the word because it evokes the Norns of Norse Mythology. It thus has a pagan feel and represents a guiding force behind the pagan Rome of old (I am also thinking here of the woman riding a dragon in Revelation 17).

Dwarven is represented by German because (as fey touched demi-humans who have rejected the image and likeness within themselves) it is one of the main language groups spoken by pagans outside the Roman Empire. Gnomish, Goblin and Kobold are different dialects.

Elvish is represented by Celtic because it is the other major culture/language of pagans outside the Roman Empire. Occitan is another (dying) real world language, which can be found in Southern France in the very region Averoigne is a fantasy analog of. In the real world, it is a Romance Language (derived from Latin); however, I wanted it to represent more of a cultural clash between the Averni (the native people of Averoigne) and the Salians. They yearn for the old Romes (both Christian and pagan). It also nicely sets up a conflict within the Averni themselves over which pieces of Rome they are trying to pick up. Thus, Occitan, Orc, Hobgoblin and Gnoll are all dialects of Elvish.

Infernal is represented by Gothic, because Christian Rome was sacked by Visigoths and a fantasy version of the Visigoths can easily be seen as a stand-in for the infernal forces found in the Chaotic (Demonic) Wilderness.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Old School Feats Revisited

A little less than a year ago, I mused about a way to utilize feats in context of old-school rules. I gave an example of how such a system might work with the magic-user class, but I never went further. Since I have been in the midst of going over all the material I have produced over the years and finishing ideas, I thought it apropos to “finish” this post by providing a full set of feats for all four base classes.

In the original post, I noted that any implementation of the system could (and probably should) be customized for a particular campaign. Thus, what follows makes the following assumptions:

  1. Building upon a post I made on Charisma and Wisdom, Charisma is the Prime Requisite for Clerics, Wisdom has been replaced with Awareness and the latter is the Prime Requisite for Thieves.
  2. The range of bonuses is going to be in the 0e/Holmes/S&W/LL+OEC range of ±1.
  3. The initiative system is individual, specifically a Holmesian variation where Awareness determines initiative order rather than Dexterity.
  4. Characteristics will be rolled with 3d6 in order.
  5. There is a combat bonus associated with each characteristic.

The bonuses for each characteristic are as follows:

  • Strength (S) = to-hit melee
  • Dexterity (D) = to hit ranged
  • Constitution (C) = hit points
  • Intelligence (I) = damage
  • Awareness (A) = initiative
  • Charisma (CH) = armor class

Every class has a Prime Characteristic and characters have an Ancillary Characteristic. If these characteristics are 13-14 they may choose to have a +5% XP bonus (cumulative). If they are 15+ they may choose a 10% bonus (cumulative). This can result in up to a +20% XP bonus. Alternatively, the player may choose to have the feats associated with either or both the Prime Characteristic and Ancillary Characteristic:


S = Improved Turning (Turn at one level higher)
D = Empower Spell (Maximize the variable on one spell per day)
C = Extend Spell (Double the duration of one spell per day)
I = Weapon Proficiency (Choose one weapon not allowed by class at character creation)
A = Divine Protection (+1 on saves vs. spells or spell-like devices)
CH = Bonus Spell (Gain one random 1st level spell per day)


S = Power Attack (Take up to a -3 penalty on a to-hit roll for an equivalent bonus on any damage roll that results)
D = Cleave (When a target is reduced to 0 hp, gain an extra attck)
C = Fortitude (+1 on saves vs. poison and death)
I = Shield Bash (May use a Shield Bash as an attack. The damage is 1d3 and the target automatically drops to the bottom of the initiative order the next round).
A = Weapon Focus (Gain a +1 to hit and damage with one weapon chosen at character creation)
CH = Expertise (Take up to a -3 penalty on a to-hit roll for an equivalent bonus to AC until next attack)

Magic User

S = Armor Proficiency (May wear leather armor without penalty)
D = Empower Spell (Maximize the variable on one spell per day)
C = Extend Spell (Double the duration of one spell per day)
I = Weapon Proficiency (Choose one weapon not allowed by class at character creation)
A = Iron Will (+1 save vs. Petrify or Paralyze)
CH = Store Spell (Store one spell which can be spontaneously cast in place of another prepared spell of equal or greater spell level).


S = Armor Proficiency (May wear Chain Mail without penalty)
D = Weapon Finesse (May use the Dexterity Bonus for melee instead of the Strength Bonus)
C = Toughness (Gain +3 hit points)
I = Sneak Attack (do an extra 1d6 in damage on attack from the rear or from the flank)
A = Lightning Reflexes (+1 save vs. Breath Weapons)
CH = Magical Aptitude (Choose one first level spell that can be cast once per day)

For example:
A player rolls a Strength of 16, an Awareness of 13 and average or below on all other characteristics. She decides to have a fighter (Prime Characteristic = Strength) and chooses Awareness as the Ancillary Characteristic. She may have either a 10% XP bonus or Power Attack from Strength and either a 5% XP bonus or Cleave from Awareness. Therefore she has the following options:

  1. Power Attack and Cleave
  2. Power Attack and 5% XP bonus
  3. 10% XP bonus and Cleave
  4. 15% XP bonus.

There are a few interesting ways to implement this system:

  • So as not to punish players who do not have two characteristics at 13 or more (as in the example above), but still put some limitations on availability, feats can be available for characteristics of 9 or more.
  • For those who don’t like level limits, one can balance out the racial advantages of the various demi-humans by only allowing humans to take advantage of the above system.
  • For those who like being more strict, the feats can be only available at 13+ and unavailable to demi-humans (who function as a means to give cool powers to "hopeless" characters)

There are also some interesting implications about this system (especially if one ignores experience point bonuses). These all basically become class abilities:

  • Cleric = Bonus Spell
  • Fighter = Power Attack
  • Magic User = Weapon Proficiency
  • Thief = Lightening Reflexes

To my mind all of these make some sense. Clerics normally expect bonus spells. Fighters should have a tactical choice for a chance to do more damage. Gandalf can now wield his sword. Thieves should be a little more lucky when trying to get away with a dragon’s treasure.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reconsidering Thieves with Starships & Spacemen

When 2e D&D came out, it didn’t really affect the way in which my group played our version of AD&D (which was really something in-between AD&D and Moldvay’s Basic — much like LL+AEC). We largely ignored most of the rules, with the exception of the new rules surrounding magic-users and thieves.

Whereas my friends were enamored with the new schools of magic and what that meant not only for their characters, but the world they inhabited, I was thoroughly impressed not only with the way thieves finally had a decent chance to succeed at some of their skills at lower levels, but how a player could customize which skills their character was good at. Pick pocketing, for example, has never much been a part of any of the campaigns I have ever been involved in; however, lock picking and reading languages has. Being able to play a thief that was more of a tinkerer and collector of esoteric knowledge rather than a pick pocket really appealed to me.

Without having to track down a copy of the 2e PH (which I got rid of years ago), I now have an option for making Thieves more akin to that 2e version which appealed to me so much more than the standard thief found in older rules of the game. The unlikely source is Starships & Spacemen 2e (S&S) by Goblinoid Games.

As I stated in my review, the way that the inevitable skills found in modern and sci-fi RPGs is handled rather nicely in S&S and invites the system to be used in a number of different applications. One such application is to the classic Thief class.

Thieves in LL/BX have seven skills:

  • Open Locks
  • (Find &) Remove Traps
  • Pick Pockets
  • Move Silently
  • Climb Sheer Surfaces
  • Hide in Shadows
  • Hear Noise

The progression of these skills start somewhere between 10-33% (with the exception of Climb which begins at 87%) at first level to 70-95% (including Climb) at 9th level. In S&S there are three types of skills: Primary, Secondary and Other. At first level they are at 60, 45 and 30% respectively. At 9th level they are at 100, 85 and 70% respectively. Thus, they have a much higher chance of success at lower levels and progress more smoothly (+5% per level) to the same range of success at higher levels.

In order to implement this for the LL/BX Thief, the player chooses one skill as Primary, one as Secondary and the rest are Other. This allows not only for higher success at lower levels, but for the kind of customization I loved about the 2e Thief.

For those interested in using the Thief Skills as a kind of Saving Throw for when the player doesn’t come up with a legitimate way to deal with a situation and thus automatically succeed (e.g. disarming a trap), here are the numbers needed to make a save at first level:

  • Primary = 9
  • Secondary = 12
  • Other = 15

These saves are reduced by one at every level. These saves and skills can be adjusted with bonuses and penalties according to the situation, difficulty of the task at hand, players coming close to a legitimate solution, etc. Since they are "saves" or skills with a higher chance of success, these kinds of ad hoc adjustments by the Referee will be less onerous than for the poor 1st level thief who only has a 10% chance of removing a trap.

Thus, not only does this use of the S&S skill system offer more freedom to the player, it also offers more freedom to the Referee.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saintly Saturdays: St. Susanna the Deaconess

Today is the Feast of St. Susanna the Deaconess. She was born in Palestine of a pagan priest and a Hebrew woman. After her parents died, she became a Christian and decided to pursue the ascetic way of life. She sold all that she had, cropped her hair, put on a man’s clothes and entered into a monastery. Assuming that she was a eunuch, the monks received her into their community.

She hid her identity for twenty years and even became the abbot of her community; however, a visiting nun became smitten with her (thinking St. Susanna a man). When her affections were rejected, she accused the saint of seducing her.

The local bishop (Cleopas of Eleutheropolis) was called along with a pair of deaconesses. St. Susanna revealed her identity to the deaconesses and her named was cleared; however, she could no longer serve in her monastery. The bishop, though, was so impressed by St. Susanna that he ordained her as a deaconess and she was appoined as abbess of a convent. She served there for many years, until Julian the Apostate came to power.

St. Susanna’s convent was targeted by the emperor’s persecution of Christians. She was arrested, tortured and thrown into prison. She died from her wounds in A.D. 362.

For those of us who are interested in running an FRPG campaign with a pseudo-historical Church (particularly if it is modeled on the medieval Catholic Church of the West), we are faced with the daunting task of telling players who wish to play a female cleric that they are not allowed. St. Susanna gives us a legitimate historical option.

As is obvious by this story, the early Church did ordain women, though only to the office of the deaconess. Historically, it seems that they functioned as normal deacons; however, St. Susanna's story also illustrates their primary role — ministering to women in those situations where it would be inappropriate for a man. For example, they performed baptisms of adult women (where the candidate was to be nude). As a result, they were mostly utilized in convents.

Unlike their male counterparts (who were allowed to marry prior to ordination), the canons of the ancient Church require that the deaconess be a celibate (or a widow). In addition, there was an age requirement — a deaconess needed to be at least forty years old.

The office was more widely used in the East, where it persisted into the 9th century. There are several historical reasons for its near demise (there are still local jurisdictions in the Orthodox Church who use the office for convents):

  • By the 9th century, the vast majority of baptisms were of infants, not adults. Thus, the primary liturgical function of the deaconess had largely disappeared.
  • The cathedral rite of the Eastern Church was in decline. It required the use of multiple clergy (and thus deaconesses). It was being replaced with the monastic rite, which required only a single priest.
  • This process was solidified when the Eastern Church suffered through iconoclasm. The main defenders of the icons were monastics. Thus, when iconoclasm was finally defeated, the men in place to take over as bishops were almost exclusively monks. Thus, they used the rite with which they were familiar.

Despite this decline, those of us who want female clerics in an FRPG campaign with a Church analog can simply ignore or mitigate these factors to justify the existence of deaconesses, while never having to stray too far from historic reality.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Patamius the Righteous of Thebes

Today is the feast of St. Patapius of Thebes. He was born into an aristocratic family of Thebes in A.D. 380. They were faithful Christians and when the saint showed an interest in theology, they sent him to a catechetical school in Alexandria. There he came under the influence of a blind teacher named Didemus, who encouraged St. Patapius in his desire to pursue an ascetic way of life.

After the death of his father, St. Patapius went into the the desert where he became well known, so much so that people flocked to the desert to seek his advice. This began to distract him from his ascetic rule, so he fled the desert.

He spent seven years in Corinth at a skete in Geranian mountains and then went onto Constantinople, where he arranged to secretly enter the monastery of Blachernae where he was able to enter into a cell in the city wall. He spent the rest of his life in prayer, fasting and performing miracles in disguise as a simple monk. He died at the age of 83 in A.D. 463 and his relics remain incorrupt.

When Constantinople fell, his relics were moved to his skete in Corinth, where they were hidden in a wall behind the iconostasis (altar area) of a chapel built there. The relics remained hidden until the 20th century when a particularly tall priest needed some changes to the chapel to accommodate his height. He was visited by St. Patapius and was warned to take care when the wall was broken through, because, as the saint explained, he was there. Not only were the relics incorrupt, but the leaves that he was buried with were as fresh as the day they were picked.

It seems that I am to continue meditating upon the campaign idea I extracted from the Prophecy of Nahum last week. If you recall, one of the potential ruins for the party to explore was the decimated city of No-Amon, also known as Thebes.

There are four themes that inspire me about the story of St. Patapius that I would like to use:

  • The image of this saint inside the wall of both Constantinople and the skete in Corinth.
  • The idea of this very holy and famous man roaming through the streets of Constantinople in disguise while going on missions of mercy.
  • His flight from both the desert and the fall of Constantinople.
  • His role as this wise man that people from all over sought out, even in the remote desert.

For purpose of fitting him into the Nineveh Campaign (as I suppose I would call it), since both No-Amon and Constantinople were conquered, it would be appropriate that the saint’s relics had been in No-Amon when it was sacked, but secreted out before the final destruction. Thus, the home base for the entire campaign can be either a monastery or a small keep in the mountains in the region of No-Amon and the saint’s relics are ensconced inside the walls.

This monastery could be famous for being the home of a wise man that many seek, but very few are able to actually see; however, there is a humble monk that is known to wander the streets and help those in need. Both, of course, are the saint.

This sets up an interesting mystery at the home base as well as a pair of potential patrons that the party could seek out and/or be recruited by (with both being the same person of course). I would look forward to the reveal of St. Patapius the Wise buried inside the wall — someone who had passed away years before the fall of the very ruin the party begins their adventuring career exploring.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Gnomic Highway

This post is really just a note to myself, but it is intriguing enough that I thought I'd share. My dreams are at their most vivid early in the morning just prior to my waking. Last night I had one where I was a member of a party of adventurers traveling what was called the Gnomic Highway.

It was an ancient, abandoned and grossly dilapidated brick road, evidently built by gnomes. This strikes me as interesting because such things usually fall to ancient human or possibly dwarven civilizations. Having the road built by gnomes introduces the possibility of illusions, tricks and the fey.

Dotting this road were dungeons and lairs of various sizes, which inevitably led to a life or death battle with the undead. Being my dream, I was armed with a really cool sword which was quite effective against the likes of liches and skeletal warriors.

However, I note it here because the Gnomic Highway is a really interesting feature that one could drop into a campaign world. Because of its potentially fey origin, it could be a means of traversing large distances in very short order — if you knew how to get on and if you were willing to take the risk.

One of the most intriguing aspects of its existence is why and how it was built and why and how was it lost. It could be the back bone of an entire campaign and even push the boundaries of what a megadungeon can be.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: Starships & Spacemen 2e

First of all, I would like to congratulate Dan Proctor for getting Starships & Spacemen 2e (S&S) out in a timely fashion. Of all the various Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects I have had the disposable cash to contribute to, Dan’s is the first to actually show up at my door.

S&S is a loving RPG tribute to Star Trek and all of the sci-fi imitators it spawned. If one has been a regular reader of my blog over the years, you might be surprised that I would spend money on something related to Star Trek. Admittedly, I do not much care for the franchise, especially in its most recent incarnation. As I have grown older and wiser, I have found the foundational principles of the Star Trek Universe to be dangerous, I have found myself deeply offended by episodes of TNG and I never really bothered with either DS9 or Voyager because of the lazy way they went about telling their own stories.

I did, however, grow up around Trekkies and remember with great fondness watching original episodes, the short-lived animated series and the first movies with those Trekkies. Though I never shared their enthusiasm, I did learn to appreciate why they had that enthusiasm. Thus, the idea of divorcing Star Trek from its foundational utopian illusions while capturing the enthusiasm that I grew to appreciate so much really appeals to me — especially when one considers that S&S is part of the Labyrinth Lord line of products with the built-in potential for a mash-up of Star Trek, Mutant Future and a D&D retro-clone.

My initial reaction when I did my first perusal of the rules was mixed. I laughed out loud with glee when I found out that there are rules for playing Red Shirts. That in and of itself makes the purchase of the game worth every penny and I truly hope that I get the opportunity to take full advantage of those rules some day.

However, Dan’s claim that S&S is “fully compatible” with LL is a bit of a stretch. For example, combat uses a mechanic where the goal is to roll below the target number. I assume that this is an homage to S&S’s Fantasy Games Unlimited roots (Villains and Vigilantes uses the same mechanic), but it does necessitate a bit of conversion if that Star Trek/Mutant Future/D&D retro-clone mash-up is to happen anytime soon. I will grant that the conversion is relatively simple, because the percentages of each system is basically the same; however, since every monster in the monster section assumes the roll-low mechanic, such a conversion will take some time upfront in order to reproduce the Armor Class of all those cool new monsters.

Here are some of my thoughts after a more thorough reading of the game:


Character creation will be very familiar to those who have ever played D&D; however Wisdom has been replaced by Psionic Potential. There is a very cool universal table of bonuses that has four columns. Each column is used in different contexts as detailed with each ability.

When determining a class, characters choose from one of three branches — Military, Scientific, or Technical. Each of these branches has sub-classes (for example, Military has Command, Security and Fire Control subclasses). These sub-classes will offer a secondary skill (more on that later) or other mechanical bonuses. If one eschews a sub-class, the character receives an experience point bonus. One can also choose between being a CO or an NCO. The CO track requires more experience points to advance and has more mechanical bonuses while the NCO track requires less experience for advancement and allows players the joy of being a Red Shirt.

Over-all I think this is a rather clever way of dealing with classes and is a loving homage to Star Trek and its ilk. The one draw-back is that one player in every group has to take the Commander sub-class. The upside is that every party gets to command its own ship regardless of level.


There are eight different races available: Adromedans, Daelans, Dreipeds, Gorrans, Humans, Hykhot, Rigel and Taurans. There are plenty of homages to Star Trek races plus a few extra with built-in racial and political baggage with each in addition to all the various mechanical bonuses one receives. One of the nicest touches is that each race has one of three Metabolisms which determine body chemistry and therefore susceptibility to various diseases etc.


Since this is based on Star Trek, which laughably got rid of a money-based economic system, equipment is not based upon how much money a character has, but rather by their branch and rank. In addition, there is an optional rule where a party can have a stash of extra equipment that can be traded out depending upon the needs of a mission.

While I don’t think the origin of this system is very realistic, I do like its elegance and could see it easily justified within the context of a military organization regardless of genre. This is certainly one of the modular rules that I would like to experiment with in other frameworks.

Skill System

As seems inescapable with modern or sci-fi RPGs there is a nascent skill system. It is broken down into three types: Primary, Secondary and Other. Depending on the level of the character each skill type has a target number. Primary starts out at 60%, Secondary at 45% and Other at 30%. If one considers that Combat is one of these skills, that means that Military Branch characters are twice as effective in combat than other Branches. In comparison to LL classes, Military Branch characters are slightly more effective in combat than Fighters overall, but every fantasy class is going to be a better combatant than either a Technical or Science Branch character.

Despite my normal reticence about skill systems, there are two things that I like about this one. Firstly, it is wide-open enough that one could easily see both of the following scenarios play out in the same game session:
Player: Since an object in motion wants to stay in motion, if we apply that to our current situation we should get the outcome we want. Star Master (the S&S version of a GM): Sure. Done.
Player: Captain, if we redirect the shield capacitor to reverse the current in the thrust of the nacelle unit, we should be able to force the door open! Star Master: Okay. Roll versus your science skill (with a bonus if said phrase of technical jargon was performed in a passable Scottish accent).

Secondly, this has potential further applications in other contexts. For example, if one wanted to create a non-Vancian magic system for a fantasy world, this is a potential model for how to proceed. Various classes would combine different skills-groups including combat, divine magic, arcane magic and other non-combat skills. The success or failure of a particular spell would be based upon these skill tables and could be modified by the difficulty of the spell, the number of people trying to cast the spell, the place where the spell is being cast, etc. This is another modular section of this game that I will want to experiment with.

Starship Combat

One of the most frustrating aspects of any sci-fi RPG for me is spaceship combat. There is inevitably one class that is significantly better at it than anyone else, which makes things frustrating for anyone who is not a member of that class. If the party is on one ship (as in S&S) there inevitably won’t be much for everyone to do, since the unit of combat is not the individual character, but the ship. There is also the real possibility of a TPK if said ship is destroyed. This can be made much worse when there is the possibility that there will be players who had no way to control or influence the outcome.

S&S tries to mitigate these failings in two ways. Firstly, all ship actions require Energy Units (EUs). EUs also determine when a ship is destroyed. Thus, combat requires that each ship decide how and when EUs are allocated. This gives an opportunity for every member of a party to have a say in the outcome of a battle. Secondly, starship commanders are required by military doctrine to flee combat when their EU count reaches 25%, and there is a mechanic that allows for this retreat. Thus, the chances of the TPK due to the destruction of the party’s ship is minimized (though not eliminated).

Overall, I must say I like this section of the game. It has a nice tip of the hat to Starfleet Battles without all the complication. It also has all the elegance needed to be a potentially fast and exciting part of the game.

World Creation

This is perhaps the weakest part of the whole book. Dan understandably (and correctly) assumes that most sci-fi games actually suffer from having a pre-generated setting. It often consumes the game and makes the task of the GM too daunting to even try (later versions of Traveller are an excellent example of this). Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Creating an entire sector of space from scratch is also a daunting task — much more so than a small wilderness map on which is a town and a dungeon.

Although Dan provides an example sector map and a sample adventure there is little else in terms of guidance with which to create your own maps and adventures. Thus, S&S does little to inspire confidence in overcoming such a daunting task.

Perhaps S&S suffers from a comparison with Stars Without Number (SWN) which has an absolutely fantastic system for creating not only entire sectors of space with awesome descriptors which inspire adventure after adventure, but has rules for factions that might exist within that sector of space. Fortunately, SWN has a free version, so it is very possible to simply use SWN’s sector creation system for use in an S&S campaign.

Final Thoughts

I am not 100% satisfied with S&S. As a stand-alone product it does a very good job of emulating a Star Trek-type sci-fi game. While the lack of a world generator is annoying it is far from crippling. I am not a big fan of the roll low mechanic (it is one of the few things that I don’t like about V&V). I don’t know why, but the aesthetics of rolling high just appeal to me more.

The strength of S&S, however, is not as a stand-alone product. Rather, it is another set of modular options within the Labyrinth Lord line of products. The reason that LL remains my favorite of all the various retro-clones out there is that it is designed to be modular. We are free to pick and choose various sections of rules from each of these products to make our own unique home brew without having to house rule. Want a 0e-style elf? You got it. Want mutant plant PCs? You got it. Want an extensive AD&D-like spell list? You got it. Now, with the addition of S&S you have the option of space combat, alien PCs, a robust system for running a military-type campaign and some intriguing possibilities for a simple skill system and a non-Vancian magic system.

Ultimately, it is this modularity that makes S&S such a good product and one that I am very happy to have in my library.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Few Shout-outs

I need to publicly thank a few folks:

  • Firstly, Carl Nash took the time to go through and do an edit of The Slave Pits of Abhoth. I have yet to take advantage and make changes, but his is an effort I really, truly appreciate. Thanks, Carl!
  • Secondly, Andrew Shields over at Fictive Fantasies has been busy converting The Slave Pits of Abhoth to his excellent FRPG Fictive Hack. Whenever you create something and then allow other people to use what you've created, it is always fascinating to see what that interaction produces. I must admit that seeing my stuff through Andrew's eyes has been really gratifying. Thanks, Andrew!
  • Finally, WQRobb of Hard Boiled Zombies is the second person to nominate me for a Liebster Award. It goes to corroborate my hypothesis that eventually every blog with less than 200 followers will eventually receive one; however, for someone who blogs about All Things Zombie to think highly enough of my corner of the blogosphere to nominate me is really cool. Thank you WQRobb!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator

This is post number 500 for me here at Blood of Prokopius. Having noticed that I was quickly approaching this milestone, I came to the realization that there is a ton of gaming material that I have produced over the last several years that either isn't organized as well as it could be or left fallow. As a result, I have been sifting through all of this output and determining what can easily be developed, organized and finished and what of all this output I still have an interest in.

The first project to come out of this process is something I've called Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator. Quite awhile ago, I started excavating the spells of 0e. At the time, I was interested in pushing the rules as far as they could go to see if they were able to handle a variety of genres, specifically some of the pulp serials of the 20s and 30s. One of the big hurdles was the spell system — how to create new powers and spells that are mechanically similar to the 0e spell list, but aren't tied specifically to the fantasy genre?

I started down the road of breaking the spells down mechanically and seeing how to build new spells based upon those mechanics. The various posts can be found here. Unfortunately, I pushed too hard and in play testing what I had started wasn't really all that fun to play. In addition, the process of breaking down the 0e spell system mechanically proved to be a very difficult — especially when one started to look at enchantment-type spells and transform-type spells. Thus, the system that was developing was far from perfect, was a departure from the 0e rules as written, and in some cases a serious departure.

As a result, the project never got finished, despite my own stated intent to put all of it into a .pdf to share with those interested. That is, until now.

Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator is far from perfect, probably has a lot of errors and might very well prove to be a lot less useful that I had originally envisioned. It is, however, a fascinating exercise in gaming archeology that I hope those who are interested in such things will find worth their while.

The link to download the .pdf is here. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Nahum the Prophet

Today is the Feast of Nahum the Prophet, who is one of the Minor Prophets. His prophecy is three chapters and foretells the destruction of Nineveh. He is unique among the prophets in that he does not chide Israel for its ungodly behavior.

According to the textual witness of the Book the bears his name, he lived sometime between 663 B.C. and 612 B.C. He mentions the fall of Thebes (No-Amon) to the Assyrians in 663 B.C. and the destruction of Nineveh by the Babylonians and Medes occurred in 612 B.C. This means he was contemporaneous or shortly after the prophets Daniel and Habakkuk, both of whom help understand how all of this vitriol and violence has anything to do with Christ.

According to the Fathers, Nahum prophesies Christ with this verse (alluded to by St. Paul is his Letter to the Romans 10:16):
Behold, on the mountains
The feet of him who brings good tidings,
Who proclaims peace!
O Judah, keep your appointed feasts,
Perform your vows.
For the wicked one shall no more pass through you;
He is utterly cut off. — Nahum 1:15 (2:1 LXX)
Compare this to these passages of Habakkuk and Daniel, in which the Fathers equate the mountain in each with the Virgin Mary:
God will come from Teman,
The Holy One from mount Paran — Habakkuk 3:3

You saw while a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and ground them to powder. — Daniel 2:34
In other words, Christ is born of a Virgin and the Wicked One (sin and death) is utterly cut off by Christ’s victory on the Cross. This, then invites us to read Nahum metaphorically where the city is an icon of sinful humanity and the great enemies of sin and death.

While this reading of Nahum is both beautiful and powerful, there are a number of images, seen from an historical point of view, that are not only fascinating but very useful in imagining an ancient ruined city as adventure or megadungeon. For those interested, the most useful translation for this exercise is the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) (which uses the LXX numbering):

  • The city was either ruled by or under the influence of one of Belial’s counsellors, where Belial is the name of a demon (1:11)
  • The ruins have desecrated and cursed tombs (1:14)
  • The city is devastated by warriors dressed in scarlet armor and red shields (2:4)
  • The city has been flooded (2:7, 9)
  • The palace has been melted (2:7)
  • There is a huge amount of treasure in both god and silver (2:10, 3:1)
  • The city is called a lion’s den (2:12)
  • The ruined city is covered by a mass of dead corpses (3:3)
  • There is a reference to the temple prostitutes of Ishtar, who was the patron pagan god of Nineveh (3:4)
  • The city of No-Amon was leveled by the evil forces of the city (3:8-10)
  • There are people of the city still extant, leaderless and scattered in the mountains (3:18)
  • The king of the city has a wound that will not heal (3:19)

What emerges from all of these references is a potentially interesting site-based adventure with several features that make for a number of different adventure expeditions or even an entire campaign:

  • There is a nation/city-state that represents Lawful (Christian) Civilization which features red/scarlet as the main heraldric color
  • There are demons (both a stand-in for Belial's counsellor and for Ishtar and her prostitutes)
  • There are undead (lots of them)
  • There are evil humanoids (lion-men? gnolls?), some of whom roam in unorganized bands raiding from the mountains in the surrounding area
  • There are large sections that are flooded (making them great ambush points for undead encounters)
  • The central palace is known as the Melted Palace (one of the mysteries of the adventure may very well be why it melted)
  • The king is some kind of undead with a wound that won’t heal (is he secretly repentant and a potential ally?)
  • There is another ruin (No-Amon) that may very well have clues as to some of the things that can be found in the city
  • There is a lot of treasure to be found

Yes, yet another cool campaign idea/dungeon/adventure inspired by simply reading the Old Testament. For those inspired to move forward, here is a map of ancient Nineveh:

a map of a palace built by the Assyrian king Sennacherib:

and a map of ancient Thebes (No-Amon):

Have fun.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dealing with Praise

Over the last several days, I have gotten some very positive feedback on various aspects of this little corner of the internet.

I definitely need to take a moment to thank every one who took the time to take a look at The Slave Pits of Abhoth and was kind enough to comment either here or elsewhere. I have been humbled by some of these reactions — and the people who made them. You have all been very kind indeed. I hope that as folks take a closer look and actually get to use it that my efforts will live up to that initial reaction. I also hope that folks will be kind enough to let me know what doesn’t work.

I also need to take the time to thank Conrad Kinch, who was kind enough to nominate me for a Leibster Award, which is (in essence) a kind of chain letter of appreciation. I don’t normally pass any kind of chain letter along, and if I do what is asked (nominate five other bloggers who have less than 200 followers) eventually every one who does a blog with less than 200 followers will be a recipient.

However, Conrad is one of those lucky few who has the time and resources to play miniature war-games on a regular basis (and focuses on one of my particular favorite periods — the Peninsular War between the British and the French) and hasn’t played D&D since sometime last century. Still, he takes the time to read my scribblings and thinks enough of them that they made his short list of things to call attention to. For that I must thank him and return the favor by pointing out that his scribblings (especially for those who, like me, yearn to be a miniature war gamer) are well worth the effort.

In response to all of this praise (deserved or not), my focus turns to all of the things my various rambles have begun but never finished. Thus, at least in the near future, my production on line will slow a little while I try and figure out ways to actually fulfill some of that unfulfilled promise.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Clement of Rome

Today is the feast of St. Clement of Rome. According to the list of bishops given to us by both St. Irenaeus and St. Hegesippus, Clement was the third bishop of Rome. He became a Christian through Sts. Barnabas and Peter. Under the reign of Emperor Trajan, St. Clement was first sentenced to hard labor (where he found and ministered to many Christians) and then drowned by having an anchor tied around his neck about the year A.D. 100.

His legacy includes two Epistles written to the Corinthians. According St. Dionysius of Corinth, these letters were publicly read on Sundays in the church. Intriguingly, this means that these two Epistles were part of the discussion in the early Church as to what should be included in the New Testament canon. In my own experience, I have found that many do not realize that the NT as we know it was not formally recognized until the 4th century. Indeed, the earliest NT writings first appeared more than two decades after the crucifixion of Christ.

This, of course, is soil ripe for folks to claim that certain books were suppressed while others were forced upon Christians and other conspiracy theories about how the NT came to be. The Epistles of St. Clement, however, demonstrate a couple of important factors. First and foremost, the books of the NT were written by Christians for Christians and it was Christians who determined what stayed and what didn’t. Secondly, due to the fact that Clement’s letters did not make the cut despite being accepted as good and right (they were read publicly in church), the criteria for what stayed and what didn’t had two factors:

  • They had to contain the Apostolic kerygma — Christ crucified and risen.
  • They had to be written by that generation that witnessed Christ.

Clement, being the third bishop of Rome was too far away from the Apostles to make the cut.

His letters, though, are a very interesting read — particularly the first. It is replete with Scriptural quotes, focuses primarily on ethical behavior (something of a trend with early Roman Christians) and integrates Hellenistic thought. The most intriguing example of the latter (and most useful in terms of an FRPG) is the 25th chapter:
Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phœnix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.
So, Clement gives us inspiration for a fantastic creature (the phoenix), its life cycle (which includes a larval stage) and an adventure — retrieving the bones from the city of Heliopolis. This presents a couple of interesting possibilities:

First, what if a the phoenix were an insect rather than a bird? This would explain the 500 year life cycle (an exaggeration of the 7-year cycle of the cicada), the worm-like larval stage (found in all kinds of insects) and (though Clement does not mention it) even the mythical fire of the phoenix (there are several insects that produce nasty chemical cocktails for self-defense). The “bones” in question could very well be the shedding of the outer shell as the phoenix emerges into its adult state.

Second, the adventure in question could very well be something of a competition or race. The value of the phoenix bones would have to be very high (are they a key component in the spell Raise Dead?). Various factions would hire and equip expeditions into the ancient (and monster infested) city to recover these bones. The party could very well be one of these expeditions. Extra-party rivalry, intrigue and conflict would be all part of the fun. Are there any agreed-to rules as to how these expeditions are to be conducted or is it a free-for-all? If there are rules, what are the penalties for cheating? What is the procedure for proving that someone did or did not cheat?

This, of course, is a beautiful set-up for a campaign. There is a built-in cultural reason that there are adventurers and that there is a megadungeon. There is also the added bonus of a built in time-frame in which a party needs to “level up” enough to be a contender in the adventure of several life-times. On this day one year from now, the competition begins. Will you and your party be ready?

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Slave Pits of Abhoth

I pray that everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving Day. I managed to finish a rough draft of The Slave Pits of Abhoth. This means that I have gone through it, spell checked it and edited it myself. Thus, there are still going to be errors throughout. Since I have never had more ambition about this project than to do what I have — produce something that I can share with a community that has been very kind to me and as a way to say, “Thank you” — I have no real intention or means to get this thing more seriously edited. However, I do understand that with the technology we have available today that this could be made available in other formats. As such, I would like to make this post an open thread for folks to comment, point out typos, technical problems, errata, criticisms, etc. If there is a real interest, I certainly can explore further other options.

In the meantime, (based upon feedback), I have decided to try Google Drive as a means for people to take a look at this. There are two links. The first is a normal layout one might expect from a .pdf. The second is saved as spreads so that folks can get a feel for how I originally envisioned this project to look. The first link is here. The second is here.

Enjoy and please let me know what you think. And again, thank you.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Gregory the Wonderworker

Today is the feast of St. Gregory of Neocaesaria the Wonderworker. He was a well-educated son of pagans who converted to Christianity. Around A.D. 240, he was elected as bishop of his hometown (modern-day Niksar, Turkey). Rather than go on, I am going to do something that I don’t often get to do — quote a saint about another. In his masterpiece On the Holy Spirit, St. Basil the Great uses St. Gregory as an example of a highly regarded early Christian who used the formula “in the Holy Spirit:”
But where shall I rank the great Gregory, and the words uttered by him? Shall we not place among Apostles and Prophets a man who walked by the same Spirit as they; who never through all his days diverged from the footprints of the saints; who maintained, as long as he lived, the exact principles of evangelical citizenship? I am sure that we shall do the truth a wrong if we refuse to number that soul with the people of God, shining as it did like a beacon in the Church of God; for by the fellow-working of the Spirit the power which he had over demons was tremendous, and so gifted was he with the grace of the word “for obedience to the faith among…the nations,” that, although only seventeen Christians were handed over to him, he brought the whole people alike in town and country through knowledge to God. He too by Christ’s mighty name commanded even rivers to change their course, and caused a lake, which afforded a ground of quarrel to some covetous brethren, to dry up. Moreover his predictions of things to come were such as in no wise to fall short of those of the great prophets. To recount all his wonderful works in detail would be too long a task. By the superabundance of gifts, wrought in him by the Spirit in all power and in signs and in marvels, he was styled a second Moses by the very enemies of the Church. Thus in all that he through grace accomplished, alike by word and deed, a light seemed ever to be shining, token of the heavenly power from the unseen which followed him. To this day he is a great object of admiration to the people of his own neighborhood, and his memory, established in the churches ever fresh and green, is not dulled by length of time. Thus not a practice, not a word, not a mystic rite has been added to the Church besides what he bequeathed to it. Hence truly on account of the antiquity of their institution many of their ceremonies appear to be defective. For his successors in the administration of the Churches could not endure to accept any subsequent discovery in addition to what had had his sanction. Now one of the institutions of Gregory is the very form of the doxology to which objection is now made, preserved by the Church on the authority of his tradition; a statement which may be verified without much trouble by any one who likes to make a short journey.

I would like to point out that St. Gregory’s witness, though powerful enough to the local Christians that they had refused to change anything in their liturgical life for well over a century, their practices were different from other local Churches. Note also that St. Basil had no real issue with this reality (as long as the dogmatic core of what was being taught and worshipped remained consistent).

If you would indulge me, I would make the case that the Church of Neocaesaria is a bit like that segment of our hobby that plays OD&D. I would argue also that there are certain principles found in OD&D that can be found in later iterations of the game that remain consistent despite all the rule changes and development of the hobby, just as St. Basil found himself on the same dogmatic foundation as St. Gregory, despite the differences in form.

When 4th edition came out, there was a lot of discussion about what D&D is, because the form had so radically changed that there was a question as to whether or not the principles that had allowed all of us to say, “I play D&D” (regardless of what ruleset we used) still existed. Although there had already been a move toward older styles due to the soul searching that followed Gygax’s death, I firmly believe that the existence of 4e accelerated the depth and the breadth of this exploration.

The fourth century in Christian history had a very similar pattern. There were a number of theologians deeply influenced by philosophy that started doing and saying things that were far enough away from what had come before, that the Church had to ask the question “What is Christianity?” Their answer is recorded in the dogmatic statements of the Ecumenical Councils.

What is fascinating about this history, however, is that those very same councils would use words and forms that were never used by Christians before them in order to defend what had come before. In other words, they borrowed things from their contemporary milieu, re-applied what had come before into this new-milieu, and came out stronger.

It is here that I need to quote Robert Conley:
To me the Old School Renaissance is not about playing a particular set of rules in a particular way, the dungeon crawl. It is about going back to the roots of our hobby and seeing what we could do differently. What avenues were not explored because of the commercial and personal interests of the game designers of the time.

We live in a new milieu. It is no longer the 1970s. Our cultural and technological landscape is radically different. What Robert is suggesting is that we take the principles of our hobby as they existed in the 1970s and re-apply them to our current reality. What we might end up with may very well look different from OD&D, but our hobby today is going through a golden age because of this process of re-applying what we learned from the hobby as it was in the 1970s.

For example, player freedom, agency and creativity are core principles that I insist upon. In my own experience, the best way that these get expressed is within the context of an abstract combat system. My recent musings on some of the shortcomings of this abstraction, however, resulted in a few folks reminiscing about how glad they are that they no longer play that way. Indeed, Robert himself prefers a far more concrete form of combat simulation (but acknowledges that the trade-off is far more time spent in actual simulation).

This is a pattern found in the 1970s, when several folks moved away from the D&D abstraction towards a more realistic model — because that realism was a core principle that they found important enough that they changed the way they played the game.

The beauty of our current situation is that we have all of the history to go back to and see how it was done before and what resulted from certain choices in game-style and rule-set. We, because of our milieu, now have the freedom to go back and tweak these choices and explore how other choices impact the way the hobby is done. And we are stronger for it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Speaking of Archers...

I have been ill this week, therefore I have done a lot more TV watching than I normally do. Fortunately, in these days of streaming video, it means I can be a lot more selective about what I watch. One of the more surprising discoveries I have made this week is CW’s Arrow.

Back when I did read comic books on a regular basis, Green Arrow was one of my all-time favorite heroes and definitely my favorite second-tier hero (I even liked Green Arrow II, Conner Hawke). The image that cements Green Arrow in my mind as one of the coolest ever, though, is this:

The sheer tenacity of the aged, one-armed Oliver Queen taking on Superman (and winning) in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight warms my heart. One of the reasons I tend to be a DC guy is that they play with the archetypal struggle of humanity vs. the superhuman. This is exemplified not only by the image above, but by the fact that Batman has a piece of green kryptonite in the Bat Cave just in case.

It is fine when the god-like superheroes of the DC universe serve humanity, but the moment they turn on humanity (either out of selfishness or allegiance to a different cause), guys like Batman and Green Arrow are ready and willing to take them on in defense of us regular joes. I love that.

From my own Christian POV, Batman and Green Arrow are akin to prophets — they are ever-vigilant against idol-worship (which is what superheroes would be doing if they stopped serving humanity — they'd worship themselves and their power rather than the God who created them) and they remind us of the fallenness of the world in which we live.

This all brings me back to CW’s Arrow, which is a TV adaptation of DCs Green Arrow, and it is a surprisingly good one. Not having paid much attention to comics in well over a decade, I don’t know how well the series meshes with current canon, but I really don’t much care. It is a refreshing re-telling of the Green Arrow story that gives enough nods to the mythos that I am very much satisfied with the effort thus far.

One of things that I am finding very intriguing is the honesty with which it deals with the consequences of being a vigilante. Unlike the classic Batman, this version of Oliver Queen has no qualms about killing people. Although he has done the calculations and figured that it is worth the price, there is definitely a toll that is being paid for all this darkness. While I completely understand why he has made the choices he has, I don’t agree with his choices. And yet, I care enough about him that I continue to watch.

Indeed, for my buck, this is one of the best TV adaptations of any comic book superhero I have ever seen. So, if you haven’t already, check it out.