Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Edges and Corners

Awhile back, I gave Dave of Dave's Mapper a number of geomorphs to add to his awesome website and tool that he happily provides for our use and inspiration. All this time my name did not have the code EC next to it because I had not yet contributed any edge or corner geomorphs. Truth be told, I had, but for a variety of reasons Dave has been unable to add them to his site...until now.

Thus, I wanted to give everybody a heads up that Dave has added not only my edges and corners, but a bunch of other geomorphs for our perusal and use. I would also like to publicly thank Dave and all the other contributors for providing such a great resource.

Finally, I thought I'd share the first map generated by Dave's Mapper using my old geomorphs combined with my edges and corners:


Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lost Colonies Session 51

Having successfully slain the water hydra, which made its home in the lake which the party had to traverse in order to get to the toadmen priests, our stalwart adventurers hunkered down, expecting that their recent victory would garner unwanted attention. The ensuing battle happen in fits and starts and was greatly aided by a tactic used by Ahkmed the Dwelf to greatly reduce the morale of the toadmen.

Ahkmed decided to play the part of a fire demon by pouring oil all over himself and then lighting the oil on fire, taking full advantage of his Ring of Fire Protection. He made his appearance by jumping down onto a group of Toadmen, gutting one of them and then claiming to be their doom. The subsequent morale check was horrendous and the battle went in a rather slap stick direction from there.

As a side note, Ahkmed has had to wear a small leather bag on one of his fingers since the party dimension hopped onto a space ship because he touched something super-sticky. The bag was his way of dealing with the problem. Little did he know that all he had to do was pour oil on it to make it go away. Therefore, I had a very good laugh when I informed Ahkmed’s player this and that this was first time that he had mentioned pouring oil on any part of his body for almost twenty sessions.

The party then pooled resources to swim into the caves where the priests were supposed to be. Ahkmed continued his charade, which worked well on some of the weaker toadmen, but the spell casters managed to hold there own, and a few party members (via some well timed Hold Person spells) Fortunately for the party, they managed to prevent the priests from opening several cages with rabid toadmen tadpoles and stirges. Things might very well have gotten ugly indeed.

In the end, they managed to defeat all of the spell casters, coming away with a nice haul of potions. One of our newer players learned the lesson that throwing a magic weapon in the middle of combat (especially when an opponent might be immune to non-magical weapons) is not a good idea. The party also learned that Fidgewik is an excellent cook. He convinced everybody that strirges could make good eats and proceeded to roll a natural 20 to see how delicious they actually are. He was instantly hired by the party to be the head cook of Fedorsha’s tavern back in Headwaters (where stirge may end up on the menu).

The session ended as the party realized that by pooling spells, several potions that they already had in their possession as well as those that they found with the toadmen priests, they had enough fly and levitate effects to take a vertical shaft into dungeon territory they were more familiar with. As a result, everyone happily returned to Headwaters where Fidgewik eagerly took up his new vocation.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gamer ADD: Fiend Folio Part 5

Dark Fantasy


As I have meditated upon this thought experiment — envisioning a Basic Edition that uses the FF for its monster section — I have pointed out the fact that it heavily implies science fantasy rather than pure or high fantasy. That does not mean, however, that the FF is purely science fiction or exlusively science fantasy. Take a look at the number of monsters that are distinctly or peripherally creatures of the fey:

  • Al-mi’raj
  • Booka
  • Carbuncle
  • Dark Creeper & Dark Stalker
  • Dire Borby
  • Forlarren
  • Galltrit
  • Gryph
  • Hellcat
  • Hound of Ill Omen
  • Kelpie
  • Killmoulis
  • Meazel
  • Mephit
  • Mite
  • Needleman
  • Poltergeist
  • Screaming Devilkin
  • Scarecrow
  • Skulk
  • Snyad

What is striking about this list is that the alignments of these creatures are overwhelmingly Neutral and Evil. Yes, both the Booka and Killmoulis are listed as Chaotic Good, but only parenthetically (their primary alignment is Neutral).

This overall orientation suggests that the fey are indifferent to the human codition if not downright malevolent. Indeed, some are positively demonic.

This is a world where the Summer Court, if it exists at all, does not care one whit what happens to humanity. The Winter Court is happily tormenting the civilized world if not plotting its demise.

Personally, I hold that this is as it should be. I don’t know exactly when, but somewhere in our literary and popular culture, fairies became something cute, cuddly and helpful. One need only look at the original Grimm’s Fairytales to get a taste at how gruesome the fey were once understood to be.

There was a time in my life when I was heavily involved in theatre and was even trained in dramaturgy. I was particularly interested in Shakespeare and have often fantasized about doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream as horror. There is a BBC production that comes close, but I always wanted to push it further.

Thus, while it is quite possible to understand the generic campaign world of a Basic Edition using the FF to be science fantasy, there is still a strong fantasy element (via its depiction of the fey) to the monster section. And, according to my own proclivities, it is happily very dark indeed.

Saintly Saturday: St. Tarasios

Today is the the feast of St. Tarasios the Patriarch of Constantinople. Born into a royal family of Constantinople during the eighth century, he received the finest education one could buy and eventually rose in rank until he was a consul in the court the Emperor Constantine VI Porphyrogenitos and his mother, the Empress Irene (who ruled while her son was still a child). At this time, the Iconoclastic controversy was in full swing and Irene was a secret Iconodule. When her iconoclastic husband, Leo V, died in A.D. 780, she re-instituted the use of icons in the church.

At this point, Paul IV, the iconoclast Patriarch of Constaninople, repented of his heresy and stepped down as bishop. Before retiring to a monastery, he suggested that Tarasios be his successor (it should be pointed out, Tarasios was a layman at this point). When approached with the possibility, the consul at first refused. Tarasios finally agreed on the condition that he call for an Ecumenical Council to deal with iconoclasm.

In A.D. 787, over three hundred bishops gathered in Constantinople to declare:
Icons are necessary and essential because they protect the full and proper doctrine of the Incarnation. While God cannot be represented in His eternal nature ("...no man has seen God", John 1:18), He can be depicted simply because He "became human and took flesh." Of Him who took a material body, material images can be made. In so taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed. He deified matter, making it spirit-bearing, and so if flesh can be a medium for the Spirit, so can wood or paint, although in a different fashion.
St. Tarasios would serve as patriarch for twenty-two years. Although iconoclasm would re-emerge (only to be stamped out again in the ninth century) the Second Council of Constantinople would go on to be ratified as the Seventh Ecumenical (meaning universal) Council.

In regards to RPGs, I see three possible applications of this story to a campaign:

1) For those interested in having a political flavor to their campaigns, doing something along the lines of an Ecumenical Council would be a very intriguing background. There would be four distinct stages:

  • The controversy (in which the political/religious sides are drawn).
  • The gathering (which could be a source of adventures as intrigues may attempt to slow down or prevent certain key players from showing up).
  • The council itself (which could last for months as each side tries to prevail).
  • The implementation (which may fail and necessitate another council). 

PCs could very easily attach themselves to a patron who could occasionally send them on mission while all of this background noise is going on. Who knows? If the PCs become influential enough, they themselves could be the movers and shakers behind a council.

2) When it comes to religious controversy, the best question to ask is: Who is God? When one looks at the history of the Ecumenical Councils, this question is at the center of every single one of them. Although the Seventh Ecumenical Council is ostensibly about icons, note how the council answers the question above. It all boils down to the Incarnation of Christ — an answer to the question Who is God?

3) Finally, I want to highlight again the fact that when he was elected to be Patriarch, St. Tarasios was a layman. One of the intriguing consequences of level titles from the early editions of the game is that there is an underlying assumption that rulers of various stripes (especially in the religious realm) are all high-level and name-level characters. According to this assumption, the D&D equivalent of the Seventh Ecumenical Council would have gathered over three hundred 9+ level clerics into the same place. Such a gathering would likely bring cries for mass healings and even the raising of the dead as people from around the world would gather in hopes of being healed. Rather than bring calm by settling disputes, such a gathering would likely bring chaos.

The life of St. Tarasios demonstrates the very real possibility that not only can bishops and other high ranking religious figures be low-level, but they might not even be clerics at all. For those who wish to minimize the affect of divine magic upon a campaign world or have a distinction between the cleric class and the religious leadership, this is a clear historical rationale to do so.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Re-Imagining The Slave Pits of the Undercity

[Forgive me, I am suffering from an unusual amount of Gamer ADD recently...I'll get back to my previous ADD ramblings shortly]

Recently, both Dyson of A Character for Every Game and Christopher of Grognardling have sang the praises of Joesky’s Carcosa Adventure. While I was checking it out, I noticed that Joesky also had a brilliant idea about what he wants from 5e.

Rather than wait in vain for WotC to do what so many of us want — re-release a bunch of old adventure modules — the folks of the OSR ought to release their own re-imagined versions of old favorites. Buried in the comment section, someone suggested that I do my own version of the Slave Pits. I find this a fascinating prospect (and a bit humbling at being mentioned along side some of the heavies Joesky suggests in his original post).

I have always really wanted to like A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity:
  • The concept is really awesome: there is a secret slave trade that needs to be stopped —find it and root it out!
  • I am not necessarily a big fan, but I often find Jeff Dee’s art inspiring. His cover art for A1 has always fascinated me. Why is Dread Delgath so casual about being attacked by giant ant people (aspis drones)? How cool is it that Blodgett is climbing walls in order to try and get a backstab? What is going on with the aspis in the foreground? I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out cool ways to answer these questions and still do every time I look at my copy of the module.
  • There has been a lot of chatter about female characters recently, and I would hold up Elwita the Female Dwarf Fighter (featured as one of the tournament characters at the back of A1 and throughout the art of the module) as one of the cooler (if not coolest) published female characters in the history of D&D. I know most guys will point to Morgan Ironwolf, but due to how they are depicted I must disagree. Ironically, Dee is responsible for illustrations of both. I find Dee's version of Elwita to be immensely respectful — she’s wearing real armor, she’s muscular and she’s still somehow feminine despite having a beard (she is a dwarf, after all). In contrast, I have always found Dee’s depiction of Morgan to be ridiculous — how is all that supermodel detail showing through her chain mail?
Unfortunately, I have never been able to like this module, because its warts outweigh its virtues:
  • Where and what is this undercity that you speak of?
  • If the region has been overrun by evil humanoids, why the need to hide the whole operation in an abandoned temple?
  • What are the aspis doing here in the first place?
I suppose I could overlook these things if A1 didn’t suffer overall from the fact that it is a tournament module. TSR did a very good job back in the day of making tournament module sound cool, special and superior to the crappy DYI stuff you did in your basement, but they necessarily abandoned several principles that govern normal dungeon creation:

  1. The adventure is very linear. Characters start at Room 1 and proceed from there. Yes, it is possible to go in through other entrances and yes, it is possible to role-play the discovery of the temple within the city where it can be found; however, both are seriously hampered by the fact that it makes little sense to hide the slave trade in a city that probably doesn't think twice about owning and selling slaves.
  2. The normal empty-room-to-encounter-area ratio is thrown out of whack. Tournament games are not about exploration, they are about overcoming puzzles and monsters. Therefore virtually every room has a monster, a trap or some kind of hurdle that the players must defeat.
  3. There is an emphasis on having new monsters that players are unfamiliar with, even if their presence doesn’t necessarily make sense or fit the scenario (see my question about the aspis above).
  4. The scenario is more important than its utility outside of the tournament setting. Placing A1 into an existing campaign takes more effort than simply placing it on a map.

In thinking about how I would do my own version of the Slave Pits, all of these things would need to be addressed while still paying homage to the original. Here are few preliminary thoughts:

  • First, the homage: The Temple itself will be the ruins of a church dedicated to St. Cuthbert. That will tie it into Greyhawk and also coincide nicely with my own proclivities. In addition, I might add one or more agents of the Scarlett Brotherhood (or an analog) to an encounter area or two.
  • Secondly, I am not adverse to using unfamiliar/new monsters, but I want them to make sense. As cool as they are, no aspis thank you; however, given that this particular project ostensibly is for folks who will potentially be owning their first copy of AD&D and in need of a good adventure to run, it would be fun to give them a traditional D&D monster that isn’t found in the MM. Since I’ve been fiddling with the FF, there are a couple of potential candidates that dabble in slavery. The one that appeals to me the most, because they can be understood to be an homage to HPL, are the kuo-toa.
  • Unfortunately, kuo-toa are described as creatures who live deep beneath the earth and who hate the sun. What if this particular group of kuo-toa had figured out a way to interbreed with humans so as to make living on the surface a possibility? Thus, there is a reason for the slave trade (finding suitable humans to help breed; sell the rest to interested parties such as the Brotherhood), there is a reason to keep these activities secret, and it allows for yet another new monster: the halfbreed kuo-toa who is able (at least for a time) to pass as fully human. [This concept can also be carried out using the Deep Ones and Sea Bloods from the RCC].
  • This, in turn, suggests that this secret hideout be near a body of water. I am thinking of using a map of Lindesfarne (an island off the coast of Northumerland where the real St. Cuthbert hails from) as the basis for the map of the region around the temple ruins. In addition to the temple, there will be a sleepy fishing village (of half-breeds), a castle (where some of the more vile activites of the kuo-toa occur) as well as the slave pits beneath the temple. Being on an island will also help keep this vile community from being passively discovered.
  • This set-up will allow for player freedom in how to engage the adventure (including the Referee, who merely need drop the island anywhere there is a body of water). PCs can choose to explore the village, sneak onto the island in the dead of night, enter the Temple from a variety of entrances (including a secret door as yet undiscovered by the kuo-toa), explore the castle or even a secret sea cave that the kuo-toa use to smuggle slaves in and out of the pits.
  • This scenario can properly begin with a rumor table, rather than plopping the PCs right in front of the secret entrance (as does A1 in tournament mode). Rumors can include red herrings to other villages in the area, thus resulting in an actual mystery that the party needs to solve prior to finding the horrors of the slave pits.
  • I also have in mind to correct the linear nature of the A-series, which takes PCs conveniently from 1 to 4 in order. Rather, I would give clues to the other locations used by the slaving ring all at once, allowing players the ability to prioritize for themselves which they wanted to tackle first.
  • Finally, the number of rooms available to explore will be increased by at least one-third (all of them empty) so as to bring the whole thing back in line with the traditional encounter-to-room ratio.
I am really intrigued by the prospects of such a project. I know not whether my schedule or my level of enthusiasm will result in any kind of finished project, but one can always hope.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gamer ADD: Fiend Folio Part 4

The Wilderness Personified

One of the interesting consequences of having the name Dungeons & Dragons is that regardless of whether or not a particular edition is geared toward introductory characters who have no business even talking to a dragon, dragons have to be part of the game. I have mused about this before, one of the striking things about Moldvay’s Basic Edition is that the average HD of the monsters is 3+1. The Holmes edition is even nastier with an average HD of 4+4. There are meant to be monsters that are way beyond the ability of low-level PCs to deal with. Dragons fit that bill.

Though dragons do show up in the FF, they are of a whole different cloth than the now familiar chromatic and metallic dragons of traditional D&D, who personify the great powers of good and evil, who speak with ancient wisdom and hate; who might be able to cast spells and even polymorph into human form to walk among their lessors. The dragons of the FF are inspired more by the Eastern conception of the mythical beasts and every single one of them is some shade of neutral.

Whereas the chromatic and metallic dragons are characterized by their breath weapons, the powers of FF dragons are characterized by the ability to manipulate nature itself. Earthquakes, burning water, weather control, control scaled animals and ice storms can all be found in the flavor texts. Some of these creatures can do these things at will. In other words, FF dragons seem to personify the cruel indifference of nature when natural disasters reduce humanity to dust.

This calls attention to the sheer number of creatures within the FF that have some kind of elemental-type of flavor or power. Those that might appear on the Wandering Monsters Tables of a Basic edition include:
  • Fire Newt
  • Fire Snake
  • Hoar Fox
  • Ice Lizard
  • Mephit
  • Shocker
  • Thoqqua
  • Thork
  • Ice Troll
  • Vortex
Given that the FF also details five Elemental Princes of Evil, it is fair to say that monsters are personifications of Fallen Nature itself. They are the face and hands of The Wilderness fighting the incursion of Civilization. At the center of all of this are those terrifying and indifferent dragons, who personify natural disasters. PCs, then, represent humanity’s attempts (in vain?) to understand, control and minimize the impact of nature itself even as nature fights back.

Though the classic trope of Civilization vs. The Wilderness is part and parcel to virtually every edition of the game, this particular version (again) has more in common pulp science fiction than it does with traditional D&D game worlds. Whereas Greyhawk is all about Good vs. Evil and St. Cuthbert vs. Iuz, the implied world of a Basic Edition using the FF for monsters suggests a world in the distant future where humanity is not just struggling against chaos and evil, but against the inevitability of its own demise — a dying earth ready to be consumed by the fire of a red giant star or a long forgotten space colony on the verge of being hurled into the void. In this context, PCs don’t necessarily represent heroes, but rather that glorious human defiance in face of inexorable defeat. It is a dark and depressing vision, but with that defiance comes a small glimmer of hope and maybe even the possibility of not just survival, but victory.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Leo the Great

Awake, O man, and recognize the dignity of thy nature. Recollect thou wast made in the image of God, which although it was corrupted in Adam, was yet re-fashioned in Christ. — Sermon On the Feast of Nativity VII
…recognize thy parentage, to become free after slavery, to be promoted from being an outcast to sonship: so that, thou who wast born of corruptible flesh, mayest be reborn by the Spirit of God, and obtain through grace what thou hadst not by nature, and, if thou acknowledge thyself the son of God by the spirit of adoption, dare to call God Father. — Sermon On the Feast of Nativity II

Today is the Feast of St. Leo the Great, who I count among my friends. This may seem strange, considering that Leo lived and died fifteen centuries ago; however, we Orthodox Christians believe he is alive in Christ and I have gotten to know Leo through his writing.

I do not have fond memories of Christmas growing up. My family is small, estranged and far-flung. The two largest emotions I associate with my childhood Christmases are anger and disappointment. There were always fights and presents never lived up to my own imagination or expectation. Thus, I have a real tendency to be very cynical about the holiday — especially with the way it is treated by 21st century America.

A number of years ago, I found it necessary to do some research on Christmas. In the course of this project, I ran into St. Leo and his sermons on the Nativity. He convinced me, through his love, his enthusiasm and his eloquence that Christmas is indeed one of the great Christian feasts that deserved my own love and enthusiasm. I often go back to his writing in order to have my friend remind me how important it really is. For that, I am eternally grateful to him.

I mention this as a prelude to this post, because St. Leo is most famous for his writing, specifically a letter to Flavius the Bishop of Constantinople which is more popularly known as The Tome of Leo. The Church of the fifth century continued to be embroiled in Christological controversies. The Tome of Leo was written in response to the Christology of Eutyches, a monophysite (meaning one nature and which over-emphasized Christ’s divinity to the exclusion of his humanity).

The Tome was famously ignored out of hand by the Second Council of Ephesus (A.D. 449), where it wasn’t even allowed to be read. St. Leo would go on to call the council a “den of thieves” and it went down in history as the Robber Council. The Tome of Leo was finally adopted as orthodox at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), which would later be ratified as the Fourth Ecumenical Council.

It occurs to me that though tomes filled with lost knowledge and revelation are one of the great tropes of both this hobby and of the pulp fantasy/sci-fi which it uses as its inspiration, these tomes often contain some forbidden knowledge of great evil. The Necronomicon immediately comes to mind. Therefore, there is a lot of room for similar tomes that, rather than containing the forbidden, are revelation.

Since I am in the middle of a thought experiment where I am imagining a version of Basic D&D that only uses the monsters from the Fiend Folio, I think it apropos to imagine a campaign set in the distant future that such an edition strongly suggests. Personally, I find it quite compelling to throw a copy of The Tome of Leo at a world based on Vance’s Dying Earth. What kind of impact would such a text have on a people who had forgotten Christ? Who would want it found? Who would want it destroyed? An entire series of adventures could center around the party being one of many that are trying to find the Tome in order to protect or destroy it.

The aspect of this I like best is the implied end game. This isn’t just about finding the Tome, but also about what happens afterwards. Power structures will be threatened and created and the PCs will be right in the middle of things. It is a great excuse to break out ACKS.

***

The Tome of the Lion

This is a gold covered tome some 18” wide and 24” tall and 4” thick, decorated with the image of a lion made entirely of precious stones. The interior is an illuminated holy text along with various commentaries. Based on these materials alone, it is worth at least 50,000gp and even more to those who share the faith of the text.

This book, however, also radiates of magic. Its powers become manifest when the tome is placed upon a corpse. The lion will animate, roar and allow the person who placed the tome to speak with the dead. The lion will be the mouth piece of the corpse in question. The spell will allow 1d4+1 questions to be asked, after which the lion will go back to its original form. There is a 1 in 4 chance that the dead questioned will answer falsely. This chance goes up if the one doing the questioning is responsible for the corpse’s death. This power is usable once per day.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gamer ADD: Fiend Folio Part 3

Putting the Scare back into the Undead

One of the recurring challenges in D&D is that the Turning ability of clerics tends to take a lot of drama out of encounters with the undead. As a result, they normally do not garner the kind of fear and loathing that the undead ought to. If a cleric (or clerics) get into mid-level and higher, then one has to be creative in order to make undead encounters even interesting.

One of the reasons that I have always liked the FF is that the undead found therein have some bite. Given a little bit of fiddling, undead in a Basic Edition that uses the FF for its monsters could prove to be very frightening indeed.

Let’s begin with a list of all the undead in the FF:
  • Apparition
  • Coffer Corpse°
  • Crypt Thing*†
  • Eye of Fear and Flame*
  • Huecuva°
  • Penanggelan≠
  • Poltergeist†≠
  • Revenant†≠
  • Sheet Ghoul§
  • Sheet Phantom§
  • Skeletal Warrior
  • Sons of Kyuss
Some notes about this list:
    * = though the description seems to indicate undead, these are not specifically described as undead. 
    † = these creatures are not really meant to be wandering monsters — crypt things and poltergeists are tied to a specific encounter area; revenants are tied to a specific encounter type. 
    § = sheet phantoms and sheet ghouls do not strike me as undead creatures, despite the fact that they are described as such. Their powers and abilities are much more akin to slimes and oozes. Indeed, the sheet phantom is said to be related to the lurker above and the sheet ghoul functions much more like the non-undead yellow musk zombie than a ghoul. Therefore, I am going to treat them this way because it makes for better undead. 
    ≠ = these creatures either are completely immune to Turning or there are circumstances when Turning will not work on them. 
    ° = these might appear on Wandering Monster Tables in a Basic edition.
If we get rid of the sheet ghoul and phantom, the lowest HD undead are the coffer corpse, the heucuva and the poltergeist. Since the latter is normally associated with a single spot and cannot be Turned if it is in that spot, poltergeists don’t really function as undead creatures and can easily be recast as dark fey or some other kind of magical activity.

This leaves the low power undead spectrum to the Coffer Corpse and the Heucuva. Check out their nastiness:
  • The Coffer Corpse can only be hit by magic weapons.
  • The Coffer Corpse is treated as a wraith on the Turn tables.
  • The Coffer Corpse can cause fear.
  • The Huecuva can only be hit by silver or magic weapons.
  • The Huecuva is treated as a wight on the Turn tables.
  • The Huecuva can polymorph self 3x per day.
  • The Huecuva can give its victims a nasty disease.
Again, given the fiddling with the undead list from the FF, these are the weakest undead in the game.

There are a few interesting consequences to this:
  1. Despite a complete absence of lycanthropes, silvered weapons would still be on the equipment list because they might do damage to the undead.
  2. First level clerics are incapable of Turning the undead. At second level, they can Turn a Huecuva on an 11.
  3. The undead do not drain levels, but they still have some diseased ways of making you either dead or one of their own.
The long and short: if you see the undead run for your lives! Adventurers will not be capable of having a shot at survival against the undead until at least third level and even then only if the Referee is nice and gives out a few magic weapons.

It must be noted that this renders clerics, as written in B/X, very weak at low levels. They will have no ability to Turn undead and no spells at first level, reducing the incentive to play one. I realize that this will suit many folks in the OSR and will also better justify the low XP requirements for the class. Personally, I would be tempted to use the LL version of the cleric, which at least gets a spell at first level; however, given the mechanical distance this undead list implies for clerics from those of other editions, I would be inclined to chuck it all and use Talysman’s non-spellcasting version where clerics do everything using the Turning mechanic.

In other words, the undead are properly scary and the cleric becomes its own unique miracle-working class rather than something somewhere in-between a fighter and a magic-user.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Meditating on Level Limits

There has been a low buzz in the blogosphere about racial level limits. Since I just got done proposing a bunch of non traditional race-as-classes with built-in level limits, I thought I'd add my two cents worth. The arguments I have seen floating around go something like this:

  • Modern gamers don’t like them, so they have to go away if we are to expand the hobby.
  • They should go away, because nobody ever uses them anyway.
  • They need to go because they are inherently racist.
  • The have to stay because they help maintain mechanical balance.
  • They have to stay because D&D has always been/is/should be human-centric.
  • They have to stay because they balance the traditional D&D world.
  • Embrace them, because as a player I get to retire my character at X level and actually accomplish a major goal for my character.

I may have missed one or two. All in all, each has its own merit and one could justify using/not using them all you want with any of these arguments. I believe, however, that they all miss the point.

Level limits are not limitations, they are opportunities. Note that in 1e AD&D that it is not only demi-humans that have level limits — humans do too. No one, no matter what race they are, can become a 16th level assassin. The question isn’t whether or not level limits are good or bad, but rather Why? With the assassin the answer is that there can only be one Grandfather of Assassins and he/she is always 15th level. This has all kinds of implications for the campaign world and for adventures that include assassins — especially PCs as they get into higher levels.

Since such answers are only provided for assassins, druids and monks, we are free to come up with our own answers for demi-human level limits. We are also free to make them different for different campaign worlds. Do these limits exist because of cultural reasons? Physical reasons? Magical reasons? Theological reasons? The options are endless and each one makes the gaming world that much richer and more interesting.

For example, in my version of Averoigne, demi-humans are all fey-touched humans who have rejected their humanity. As such, they have rejected the image and likeness of God within themselves. Since God is infinite, humans have infinite potential when it comes to levels. Since creation is finite, demi-humans have finite potential when it comes to levels.

Here is my greater point: if a campaign world has specific reasons as to why level limits exist, than creative players can come up with campaign specific reasons as to why they can be overcome.

Question: Which would you rather have?

  • A 15th level halfling because level limits suck.
  • A 15th level halfling because the level limit was overcome by stealing Queen Mab’s eye?

Personally, I’ll take the latter every time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gamer ADD: Fiend Folio Part 2.5

Optional Race-as-class

For those who want to embrace the science fantasy/mutant future weirdness that I suggested in Part 2 for the generic D&D world of a Basic edition that uses the FF for its monster section, I offer this alternate race-as-class:

Qullan

This is a bit of a stretch, which is why I didn’t include it in Part 2. Normally, I would dismiss Qullan out of hand because they would make horrible PCs — they emanate confusion and immediately attack, without question, all strangers. However, their use of individualized war paint of wildly contrasting colors and their insanity suggest that they might be clones — the insanity is a result of genetic degradation over time and the war paint is a means by which to identify themselves as individuals.

Making this assumption allows the use of the Replicant class from Section 9: Mutants & Mazes in Mutant Future. For those that aren’t familiar, they are clones that exhibit various mutations, which might result in some wonderfully weird looking PCs. I have always assumed that such a race might very well be obsessed with cleansing these mutations from their genetic code. The Qullan could therefore represent what happens every time the Replicants have tried to remove those mutations from the genetic material they use to reproduce. This also gives PCs a good reason for adventuring — they are seeking out ancient technologies that can help them do genetic experiments without resulting in Qullan (whether or not this is even possible may very well be a central theme of a campaign).

Gamer ADD: Fiend Folio Part 2

No Dwarf, Elf or Halfling PCs

There are no halflings or halfling-derivative races within the FF. The only elves are Drow, who live deep beneath the earth and have little incentive to come to the surface (all their cool toys are broken once they see the light of day). The only dwarf-relatives are the svirfneblin of which we know this from the flavor text:
Only males have ever been seen and those only deep beneath the ground.
Given that in other editions, the various demi-humans that were available as PC races or classes show up in the monster sections, a Basic edition using the FF as its monster section would not have any dwarf, elf or halfling PCs. The latter due to a complete absence and the first two because there is no justification for drows or svirfneblins to go wandering with surface dwellers.

While I am hugely tempted to leave this at that (in my old age I tend to lean toward human-centric campaigns), I am guessing that (like me) there are gamers from every generation whose very first character was something other than a human. In order to scratch that itch (and to start making assumptions about what a generic D&D world might look like through the lens of this hypothetical rule set), there are several candidates for non-human PC race-as-classes:

Aarakocra

Even though this is one of the few good creatures found in the FF and it is reasonably anthropomorphic and has a hit die comparable to the elf in the MM, I have to reject it out of hand. The reason is found in the flavor text:
Aarakocra are extremely susceptible to claustrophobia.
Since Basic D&D is all about exploring dungeons, a PC race that won’t go underground sort of defeats the purpose.

Dakon

Although the base damage for these intelligent apes seems high (1d10 x2), the base damage for an elf in the MM is 1d10, the HD 1+1 and they can use spells. Dakon also have an HD 1+1, are lawful, speak common, are on good terms with lawful humans and can be found in a variety of environments except near bodies of water. One flavor text I very much like is this:
…the dakon will never attack except in self-defense or to recover stolen treasure from it.
This immediately brings to mind the dwarves of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and suggests that the dakon will make a very good substitute for dwarves. In fact, one could simply use the same basic stats or (as I might be tempted to) use the White Ape Class from the RCC.

Kenku

Again, the base stats for these bird-men appear to be on the powerful side; however, using the MM elf as a model, it is an easy thing to say to the average player: sure you start out worse, but you are going to end up being a whole lot better. There is even a flavor text that suggests that younger (and therefore weaker) kenku are far more prone to going on adventures:
Particularly adventurous kenku have been known to use [shape shift] to assume the form of a god and accept offerings from credulous worshippers, and this is but one example of the bizarre uses to which the kenku, and particularly the younger of the species, have put this power.
Since kenku can cast spells, they make an interesting stand-in for elves; however, some of the elven abilities would need to be traded out for the kenku abilities:

  • Flight 18”
  • Shape shift 1/30 days for up to seven days in a row.
  • Pass as human via a disguise 50% of the time.
  • They don’t appear to be able to speak, though they seem to speak to each other via telepathy. (For purposes of making them PCs, this last one can be done away with or have PC versions be a minority that can speak.)

Though these might be a bit on the powerful side, given that kenku are mischievous and prone to kidnapping as a means of making a living, there would be a powerful social stigma that PCs would have to deal with.

Quaggoth

These white, shaggy bipeds have an HD 1+2, are neutral and speak common (if haltingly). PCs could represent either the most intelligent of the quaggoths or half-breeds. Though they are much taller (7’ +), the fact that quaggoths are immune to poison suggests that they are a good substitute for halflings (and could therefore use these stats). Another alternative is to use the White Ape Hybrid Class from RCC (which combines fighter and thief abilities).

If used, these race-as-classes firmly move the generic D&D world away from high fantasy and a medieval european analog. In essence, these three are intelligent ape-, bird- and bear-men, suggesting a science fantasy world in the distant future where these races evolved through either mutation or experimentation. Such a world would have more in common with Vance’s Dying Earth and CAS’s Zothique than REH’s Conan or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One might even be tempted to characterize it as a more serious/less gonzo version of Gamma World/Mutant Future. This leaves much room for introducing sci-fi elements and explaining various magic effects in terms of technology (Maliszewski’s take on wands, for example). For me, this is one of the most compelling aspects of this experiment, because it nicely scratches the science fantasy mash-up itch that I usually have to suppress or keep under wraps in most D&D games.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gamer ADD: Fiend Folio Part 1

Let me preface this by saying that one of my favorite poetic forms is haiku. It seems so easy — five syllables, seven syllable, five syllables; however, trying to create something truly beautiful with something so limited and small is a true challenge. This challenge often brings out my own creativity in a way that other forms of writing do not.

Thus, I was very much intrigued by Jeff Rient’s radical reduction of the 1ed PH weapon tables for his Wessex Campaign. Having had a lot of success, fun and creativity doing this sort of thing myself over the years I whole-heartedly agree with his assessment:
The lesson here might be that with a game as big as D&D one way of getting a handle on it is to cut it down to size.
Therefore, I happily followed him down the rabbit hole where he hypothesizes a campaign that only/primarily uses the Fiend Folio as its source for monsters. The FF had always been my favorite monster tome and I have gleefully used many of its inhabitants (even some of the goofiest).

This got my creative juices flowing and I am in full-on Gamer ADD mode. Given that I am not a huge fan of AD&D, the most likely way that I would ever implement such a concept would be with my favorite version of the game — B/X and its retro-clone LL. This gave me an intriguing way to further reduce the FF into a more easily digestible chunk — what would Basic D&D look like if it were only to use monsters from the FF?

Therefore, I went through the FF and gleaned only those monsters that might appear in the Wandering Monster Tables of a Basic D&D book — up to about 3+ Hit Dice . There are several very compelling implications to make about this list, so this will take multiple posts; however, I am going to begin with a criticism/concern.

As I was going through the FF and really trying to use it as a whole, one of its features really began to jump out at me — the length of each monster entry. It struck me that there are several truly creative and inspiring monsters like the Berbalang and PĂȘnanggalan that I have never used because the flavor text was so long and complicated as to be virtually unusable for my style of fast and free play (who wants to skim through a page and a half of text to figure out how to use a randomly generated monster encounter?).

Curious, I did a cursory comparison of the FF to the MM. A quick (and probably inaccurate) count of monster headings in the Alphabetical Table of Contents revealed that the FF has about 161 and the MM about 212. The FF fits these headings into 91 pages while the MM does it in 97 pages. This means that while the FF averages less than 2 monsters per page (about 1.76), the MM has almost half an entry more per page (about 2.18). This only gets worse when one factors in monster headings that have a description followed by separate stat blocks like dragons and giants. The FF only manages to average 4 monsters per heading in these cases while the MM averages over 11 (11.4). In addition, the MM has a couple dozen entries that pack multiple stat blocks together (such as various animals with regular and giant versions). The FF has about three.

In other words, whereas the MM was one small step away from the bare-bones monster entries of OD&D and which made the MM one of those tomes that I constantly go back to no matter what version of the game I play, the FF is one (big?) step toward the over-complexity of later editions. Actually reading and re-reading some of these entries I am not sure if their length is a function of the complication of the game over time or simply an editorial need to fill enough space to justify a page count (probably both).

The implications of this for a Basic edition doesn’t bode well. Both the complexity and the verbosity of monster entries suggest a higher page count than 64, something I am not thrilled about. This is especially true when one considers that much of the complexity seems to be related to the growing canon of AD&D world/cosmology concepts like the various planes of existence.

The concept of the inner and outer planes has never set well with me, even before I became an Orthodox Christian. If, then, the page count beyond 64 is primarily taken up by cosmology and how it affects the game world not only are we one step closer to RPGs that spend more time telling us about their world than on mechanics (and thus limiting player freedom), but (more importantly) I may never have played the game.

Since my first exposure to D&D was with the Holmes edition, which itself was an exercise in DYI D&D, I have always been acutely aware of the freedom I had to mix and match as I please with the various components of the rules. AD&D (despite some of the claims of Gygax himself) was never the official way to play the game. Holmes gave me permission to fiddle as much as I wanted to. If my first exposure to D&D had been something I envision a Basic D&D flavored by the implications of only using FF monsters might be — complicated and constricting — I may have left D&D behind for greener pastures (the original Traveller comes to mind).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Theodora the Empress

Today is the feast of St. Theodora the Empress. Born into a military family, she was married to the last iconoclast emperor — Theophilus. Despite this, she was a secret iconodule and privately collected and venerated icons. After the death of her husband, she restored the icons in the churches for public veneration and liturgical use. This event is celebrated every year on the first Sunday of Lent. When her son Michael came of age in A.D. 857, she abdicated and joined a convent, where she lived out the rest of her life. Today, her relics are on the island of Corfu in the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos of the Cave.

Art has always played a huge role in my life, let alone my understanding of this hobby. My grandmother was an art teacher and through her diligence, patience and genius I actually provided for myself and my family for over a decade through the skills she taught me. Thus, I have a very deep appreciation for how and why we interact with art and how powerful it can be. For example, even though I do not hold this up as one of the greatest examples of RPG art, it nonetheless has powerfully influenced my own understanding of hobgoblins and their culture and has done so for decades:


Orthodox iconography is no less inspirational or influential. For example, this particular icon, which depicts St. Mercerius wielding two swords (one of which is the sword of the Archangel Michael) inspired an entire series of adventures in my Lost Colonies campaign:


For those that don’t know, however, icons for the Orthodox Christian are much more than inspirational. They are personal. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christ and the saints depicted in icons are personally present through the icons. Thus, when you see an Orthodox Christian kissing an icon, we are not just kissing paint on wood, we are lovingly greeting old friends. Many Orthodox Christians will describe icons as windows of heaven — we get a foretaste of what heaven is by means of looking at (through) icons.

It occurs to me, that this may very well be one of the major sources for a trope within many of my campaigns — portals to other dimensions and realities. If icons are a portal through which the saints can be personally present within my life, it is an easy leap to introduce into fantasy the opposite — a party’s ability to go the other way through these portals.

Though such possibilities have long been a part of the hobby (Judges Guild’s Portals of Torsh, Irontooth and Twilight are favorites of mine), they are not as widely used or as enthusiastically embraced as one might expect. My own enthusiasm for them may very well be explained by my relationship with art and iconography.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lost Colonies Session 50

When we last left our stalwart adventurers, they were still in shock over the death of Hamlen (who went toe to toe with a demon in order to save the rest of the party). The thrown room only had one entrance, so they quickly barricaded themselves inside in hopes of being able to rest and heal, because, despite finishing off the demon thanks to the heroics of Hamlen, most of the party was in a very bad way.

Unfortunately, Ahkmed found a secret door behind the thrown and the party was forced to reconnoiter the passage that lay beyond. Fortunately, it merely led to small subset of rooms unconnected to any other part of the dungeon, and this included both a treasure and a map room. Their rest was briefly interrupted by a pounding on the door and a demand to see the king, but using some knowledge gleaned from the map room, they managed to talk their way out of having to fight right then and there.

That knowledge included the following:

  • The language used on the maps and various correspondence is that used by the Cyn (a name the party learned for those who wear the golden masks while in the Brain Lasher city).
  • There was some kind of trade going on between the toad men and occupants of levels immediately above and below.
  • There were prisoners, one of which was an elf (though they did not know if they still lived).
  • There were priests among the toad men.

It was decided that the party would first free the prisoners (if they were still alive) and then deal with the priests.

Using the maps that they found, the party made quick work of the guards and managed to free three prisoners:

  1. Thog the Dwarf, a former PC that has been a slave of various factions within the megadungeon since the early days of the campaign.
  2. Aldros the Elf who has evidently been experimented on, because he has severe amnesia and isn’t very good at learning spells.
  3. Fidgewik the toad man. 
This is where the session really started to take off for me, because I had a complete blast playing up all three of the prisoners, especially Fidgewik.

The poor toad man was the unfortunate recipient of magical experimentation gone wrong — he turned to stone during what passed for night in the dungeon. He was imprisoned to keep him isolated from the rest of the toad men in case the affliction was contagious. Gillek the Gnome had on his possession a ring labeled “stone” in Dwarvish. He knew it was magical but had yet to figure out what it did.

Therefore, he decided to see if the ring was a protection against petrification by giving it to Fidgewik. His instinct proved correct and Fidgewik enthusiastically declared that he was no longer a toad man but a gnome. The rest of the session saw the toad man trying to mimic the gnome in all things. For example, Fidgewik assumed that a trident is a gnomish weapon because Gillick primarily uses the magic trident he got from the Water Naga outside the underwater city. Of course, Fidgewik insisted on using a trident himself.

Most of the session was taken up with interviewing the prisoners as well as feeding, healing and equipping them. The session ended with a combat with a water-hydra guarding the underground lake which led to the demesne of the toad men priests. This combat went extremely well for the party. They had learned of the hydra’s presence from Fidgewik and were able to prepare and execute a battle plan, which included using a pig carcass to draw the hydra out of the water and into terrain that better fit the abilities of the party. The liberal use of missile weapons and a goodly amount of bad rolls on my part saw the party make short shrift of the beast.

Next: the party braces for a clash with the toad men priests.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Alignment and Character Morality

Brendan at Untimately has written an interesting analysis on alignment (and in passing mentions one of my many musings here). He does something that I think very much needs to be done in any discussion of the alignment system, which is narrow it down to the mechanical and practical reasons within the game system. He mentions two:

  • Spells like Detect Evil and Protection from Evil
  • Ethos classes such as assassins, druids, monks, paladins and rangers.

He goes on to illustrate how LotFP and Carcosa handle the first in heuristic way — every action can be clearly understood as being in or out of a particular alignment. For my own purposes, this can be simply stated as (Christian) Civilization vs. (Demonic) Wilderness. Or, to put it more bluntly: are you in or out of the Church? I say this in context of the pre-Reformation world where being Christian and Christianity was inseparable from being part of the Church.

The second is where D&D has historically ran into trouble. The five- and nine- alignment systems do not lend themselves well to an heuristic approach. In addition, they are so ambiguous in their moral/ethical distinctions as to be indistinguishable — True Neutral, Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Evil might as well be the same. This confusion is only exacerbated by our modern relativistic inability to define good and evil.

Even so, such definitions are not necessarily useful in terms of determining whether or not a particular class is adhering to the class ethos and therefore is qualified to retain or lose all class abilities. Take, for example, this Christian understanding of good and evil:

  • Good = God (and therefore, the presence of God)
  • Evil = the absence of God

Thus, any act that moves us toward God and being like Him is good. Any act that takes us away from Him and His likeness is evil.

Given this criteria, the killing of any human being for any reason is evil because it is a willful destruction of God’s image and likeness. Thus, every time a paladin or a ranger killed an evil human, they would lose their class abilities. This only gets messier when dealing with demi-humans — are they or are they not made in the image and likeness of God? Why? In the end, this approach will most likely place the vast majority of PCs in the evil camp and make it virtually impossible for either the paladin or ranger to be played at all.

I suppose that if one was willing to limit the image and likeness to humans and if evil human opponents were used in moderation, one could have a simple means by which a paladin or ranger could be reinstated (such as confession). If handled correctly, this could introduce some interesting moral choices into the game; however, this is a very narrow interpretation of the game that severely limits the utility of these classes. Even in campaigns, such as my own, which strive to equate the Wilderness with the monstrous and demonic, this line gets fuzzy when players interact with and humanize monsters. There are currently at least five henchmen NPCs in my current campaign that started out as monsters.

The ugly reality is that PCs represent that morally ambiguous part of civilization that has to do dark and nasty things so that everybody else doesn’t have to. Thus, having a mechanical consequence that punishes players for doing the morally ambiguous things that the game (in essence) requires that they do is inherently unfair (and one of the reasons we’ve been arguing about how to implement the paladin since its inception).

When I did the meditation on alignment that Brendan cites in his post, I was purposely sidestepping the moral issue for exactly this reason. From a practical point of view, determining “sides” in a manner akin to the wargaming roots of the game makes much more sense than the moral/cosmic adherence implied by the traditional D&D alignment system. Brendan, by the way, was ultimately critical of this approach because he not only sees a need for the moral/cosmic, but sees the dynamism implied by my approach as a problem. I tend to see it as a feature — changing alignments is more akin to changing political parties than changing religion and is therefore less dramatic or earth shattering. Indeed, depending upon the mechanics a particular campaign ties to those alignments, it could even be good strategy.

However, I recently made reference to a speed bump that the Pathfinder campaign I’ve been participating in ran into. This is in part due to an absence of the moral/cosmic alignment system, despite the fact that we had no real ethos classes. Some of our more inexperiences players — lacking a moral/cosmic basis by which to weigh their decisions — did a few things that some of the more experienced players found to be rather heinous and offensive.

This has reminded me that there is one more practical way that alignments are used in games:

  • A basis which aids a player in deciding how their character should act in certain situations.

Given that a cosmic alignment doesn’t necessarily imply a moral/ethical code (see the heuristic approaches of LotFP and Carcosa above) and that a more traditional (Christian) definition of good and evil is not very useful in context of the average adventuring party, there has to be a different criteria by which to aid players in making moral decisions for their characters.

Given my recent experience, I am going to propose this schema:

  • Evil = selfishness
  • Good = service to others

This does several things:

  • It anathematizes selfish play (and all of the various vices that unfold from this kind of play). 
  • It nicely plugs into the cosmic schema of Civilization vs. Wilderness while allowing for the kind of moral ambiguity that adventuring requires while also being applicable to the more diverse alignment system that I proposed here.
  • Finally, it gives characters of diverse backgrounds a means of negotiating cool reasons to work toward a common goal. Take, for instance, a thief who is loyal to one of the local crime families and a fighter who is loyal to the local city guard. In a normal schema, these two would not work together. However, when serving others is understood to be the moral center of a character, it is possible to understand the taking down of a rival family’s smuggling operation as mutually beneficial. Ultimately, it gives players of wildly different characters a means by which justify the kind of trust necessary for really good games.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saintly Saturday: The Right-believing George the Great Prince of Vladimir

When looking over some of the possible subjects for today's post, I ran across an obscure saint. Celebrated today is the Right-believing George the Great Prince of Vladimir. He was one of the rulers of the Principality of Vladimir-Suzdal at the end of its golden age, which was during the late 12th century and early 13th century. He died during the Battle of the Sit River in 1238. His body was found by Bishop Cyril and transferred to the Rostov Cathedral and finally to the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir.


As an aside, George (also known as Yuri II Vsevolodovich) is the uncle of Alexander Nevsky. When it comes to influences on my life and on my gaming, there are actually very few films that have any sway at all; however, Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky is one of the few film experiences that I can say with certainty started me down several paths that led to the person I am today.

Ostensibly, it is an historical piece about the Battle of the Ice, where Alexander Nevsky defends Novgorod from an invasion of Teutonic Knights. In reality, it is a blatant anti-Nazi/pro-Communist propaganda piece. If one can look beyond this (and its pathetic comic-relief subplot) this is a brilliant war movie. The armor of both the Russians and the Teutons still inspire today and I personally hold up the climactic battle of the movie as one of the best ever put on film.


There are two interesting things about the Right-believing George. Firstly, he is an example of the phenomenon of the local saint. Unlike the very legal process by which someone becomes a saint within the Roman Catholic tradition, Orthodox saints are recognized in a far more organic way. One aspect of this is that popular holy men and woman in a particular region can be recognized as saints within that particular locality. The most popular of these will go on to be more widely recognized. St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki is an example of this. In the mean-time, within each local church there can be widely different lists of saints (though this is becoming less and less predominant given modern communications technology).

Secondly, the title Right-believing is a title given to sainted secular rulers. Therefore, Right-believing saints are popular leaders that defend and/or promote the Church. Some are known for building churches and/or monasteries. In the case of George Vsevolodovich, he died defending Christendom (note that in his icon he carries both a sword and a martyr’s cross).

In terms of an FRPG setting, this suggests a tremendous amount of freedom in the creation and existence of saints. Not only can each locality can have its own unique saint, but the title Right-believing suggests that even PCs can eventually attain sainthood doing what PCs do — as long as such adventures are done to protect and promote Christianity or what-ever analog the campaign world happens to have.

I am also tempted to take mechanical a spin on this local saint phenomenon. Given the uniqueness of each local saint, it could be possible to offer unique divine spells in various local churches, with flavor texts based on the life of the local saint.

For example, one of the possible ways that Hamlen might continue to influence my Lost Colonies campaign is through becoming a Right-Believing-type saint. Should a chapel ever be built in Headwaters, I would offer the following spell to any cleric that prepared their spells within its confines (due to his affection for horns and using them prior to combat):

Hamlen’s Horn

Level: 1
Duration: Instantaneous
Range: Self

When cast, this spell summons a spiritual horn that gives off a blast of sound. All opponents within a 30’ radius must immediately make a morale check. This check is in addition to any other morale checks that normally happen during combat.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lost Colonies Session 49

I have not had a very good couple of weeks in terms of gaming. I’ve been ill, the Pathfinder campaign I am playing in hit a major speed bump which probably should have resulted in PCs killing each other and when we re-started the Lost Colonies campaign, the session ended with one of my favorite PCs permanently biting the dust. Though I am an advocate of lethality in my games, I do not necessarily relish in killing off PCs, particularly ones that have had a large impact on my campaign world.

When we last left the party, they had managed to escape certain death in the Brainlasher City by jumping through an inter-dimensional portal which they then managed to destroy. Unfortunately, they found themselves deep beneath the earth in one of the lower levels of the campaign’s megadungeon.

As the party explored, they came upon what amounted to a drug factory. Fungus was being grown and processed to create a highly addictive additive to food stuff that had been shipped across the inter-dimensional portal to help keep the Brain Lasher’s slave population under control. The party efficiently moved through this section, cleared it and then destroyed the facilities (though not without Raine, the party Thief, getting herself addicted).

As they continued to explore, they found the lair of the creatures responsible for the production — toad men. They talked their way into the lair and met with their leader. Unfortunately, the players made a miscalculation and revealed that they were an enemy of a toad men ally and a big fight ensued. Things went rather well for the party until a demon showed up. At this point, Hamlen realized that several party members were unable to have any real effect upon the fight, so he went toe-to-toe with the demon so that the rest of the party could escape.

Considering, he did extremely well — so much so that the party was eventually able to finish it off. In the end, it came down to an initiative roll. Sadly, the demon won and Hamlen was slain. Dn. Goram cast a Speak with Dead spell to determine his final wishes. He distributed his goods among the rest of the party and, being satisfied with his life and his death asked not to be raised.

As I said, this is how the session ended, and (at least for me) was a real downer. I really liked Hamlen and what he had become for my campaign. His death may very well have long term consequences, if for no other reason than I want his influence to continue.