Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gamer ADD: WH40K Campaign

Grrr… this is what happens when I don't get to play as regularly as I want.

So, despite the fact that life continues to happen (severely limiting the time I have to dedicate this sort of thing) two comments from my last couple of posts have fired my imagination in a way that is extremely difficult for me to ignore (Gamer ADD — an affliction even the best of us suffer from).

Anthony said of this post:
This sounds like a lot of fun, giving space for all sorts of adventures and, if the chests were lost years ago, historical detective work. In fact, this campaign would also work with "modern" games, such as Call of Cthulhu. I'd be very tempted to add "competitors," say after the 2nd or 3rd chest was recovered, to give the party a sense that Bad Things would happen, if the relics were to fall into the wrong hands.
TheMetal1 said of this post:
And...so...What are you waiting for?!! Get this campaign rolling and run it online through Google+ or on a Virtual Table Top like FGII!
Anthony made me realize that the campaign idea I had laid out with lost relics could very easily be applied to the WH40K campaign that TheMetal1 has so enthusiastically demanded that I do. Unfortunately, my gaming budget does not have any room for a $30 .pdf of a rule system I am not even sure I would want to play; however, Sine Nomine’s Stars Without Number has a free edition. Since it is based on a system I am very familiar with (old school D&D) it means that not only will it be easy for me to run such a game, but it is flexible enough to easily accommodate the various peculiarities of the 40K universe.

I occasionally can’t sleep and over the weekend I spent some time perusing the Warhammer 40000 wiki and found myself a planet that could serve very well as a basis for a campaign: Black Reach. There are several reasons why I find this local to be ideal (many of which fall into the category of classic D&D campaign tropes):

  • The system lies in the Ultima Segmentum, which is on the imperial frontier.
  • A bunch of races can be found in the Ultima Segmentum (both friendly and antagonistic). Eldar, Tau, Tyranids, Orcs and Chaos are explicitly named, and there is plenty of room to include Abhumans, Dark Eldar, Necrons and Squats as well as all sorts of unexplained xenoforms.
  • Black Reach is a Hive World — it has giant multi-level cities capable of supporting a population in the billions. It also means that it is the equivalent of a giant megadungeon.
  • Black Reach was also recently decimated by a recent invasion of orcs — the entire northern hemisphere was left in ruin.
  • Despite the fact that the Ultramarines beat back the invading orc horde, (given a little change in tense) there are still pockets of orcs that need to be eliminated by the local population (i.e. adventuring parties).
  • There is a precedent for Space Marine chapters to have relics. The Ultramarines, in particular, have quite a few.
  • The thing that I like best about Black Reach, however, is that all the information I can find about it is this paragraph:
Black Reach is the Imperial Hive World in the Ultima Segmentum fought over by the Ultramarines 2nd Company under Captain Cato Sicarius and the Goff Clan Orks under the Warlord Zanzag following the invasion of Black Reach in 855.M41 by WAAAGH! Zanzag. As an Imperial Hive World, Black Reach's massive hive cities are home to billions of Imperial citizens. Much of the planet's population was slain during WAAAGH! Zanzag, and the northern continent of the world was completely ruined by the intensity of the fighting. After the defeat of Zanzag by the Imperial forces, Black Reach's inhabitants still had to take back the rest of their world from the pockets of surviving Greenskins.
    Other than this, there is no canon that I have to worry about. It doesn’t even appear on any of the maps I have found of the WH40K universe. Given that there are a million planets within Imperial space, that means I have the freedom to create the entire sector of space in which Black Reach is found.
The initial adventure will hold out a carrot to the party — a Letter of Marque, which gives them the freedom and authority to go anywhere within the Black Reach Sector. This will give them a bunch of planets to explore, and provide a reasonable limit on their activities to make life easier for me.

In addition, since Stars Without Number is based on older editions of D&D, I can easily import various classes from D&D and its clones. I expect to have the following:

  • Dwarves as a stand-in for Squats.
  • Halflings as a stand-in for Ratlings.
  • A modified version of Elf (combining Psychic and Warrior) as a stand-in for Eldar.
  • The Replicant class as detailed in Section 9 of Mutant Future as a stand-in for Abhumans (like Beastmen and Ogryns).
  • The Cleric class to represent the prophets of the 41st century Christians, whose turning ability will work against both Chaos and the Necrons.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St Bartholomew

Today is the commemoration of the Return of the Relics of the Apostle Bartholomew. Originally, the relics of the apostle were in the region of Armenian Albanus (modern day Baku in Azerbaijan). Starting in the reign of the emperor Anastasius (A.D. 491-518), however, his relics were transferred to the newly constructed city of Anastasiopolis (modern day Dura in southeast Turkey). They remained there until the end of the sixth century when Persians under the emperor Chozroes conquered the city.

Christians fled with the relics of St. Bartholomew and several other saints (the martyrs Papian, Lucian, Gregory and Acacius), all collected in various chests. Persian priests, however, overtook them as they were traveling on the coast of the Black Sea. The chests were thrown into the water; however, instead of sinking (as they should have — reliquary chests are normally covered in precious metal) they floated out of reach of the Persian priests.

On this date, the chest containing the relics of St. Bartholomew arrived at the island of Lipari off the coast of southern Italy. The other chests would safely arrive in other places around the Italian peninsula (Sicily, Messina, Calabria and Askalon).

This has an adventure, a series of adventures or even an entire campaign written all over it. The relics of several saints have been lost (to invaders? to a cult? to a political faction?). A powerful patron wants them recovered. Depending upon who the stole them, the relics could be in a series of dungeons or other challenging locations. The party would have to follow clues in order to track them all down. In the meantime, other powers could also be interested in getting their hands on the same relics — making the whole exercise a race to see who gets there first. It could even be done in conjunction with this campaign idea.

Too bad my plate is really full at the moment…

Friday, August 24, 2012

Meditating on Warhammer 40K

Conrad Klinch of Joy and Forgetfulness asked the following question of me:
One of the most popular wargames, Warhammer 40K, makes heavy use of Christian imagery, but warps it rather spectacularly. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Let me preface my answer with a bit of personal background. I had largely stopped playing RPGs in the late 80s and thus most of my gaming budget (both temporal and monetary) was spent playing miniature wargames. In the early 90s I did play quite a lot within the 40K universe (particularly the 2nd Edition of the Spacemarine Epic ruleset). So, I have more than a passing familiarity with the universe; however, I stopped paying attention to GW products around fifteen years ago because I got sick and tired of the constant rule changes, the ever more expensive rule sets and the pricing of figures based on game ability rather than the amount of metal. Thus, if there has been any major changes in the mythology of the universe since then, I am unaware.

Secondarily, I would also say this about symbology: there is very little in Christianity that doesn’t originate in other cultures. One of the central feasts of the Orthodox Church in summer is the Transfiguration — when Jesus shows his divinity to Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor. The important part of this event is that this happened through Christ’s humanity. This demonstrates that created matter (our humanity in this case) can be transformed through divine grace. One of the primary purposes of the Orthodox Church is facilitating this transformation, not just in ourselves but the very culture that surrounds us. Thus, pagan symbols and celebrations have been “baptized” and transformed into Christian symbols and holidays.

A classic example is the Cross. In pagan Roman culture, it was a symbol of Roman power and the violent and awful death that awaited anyone who dared defy that power. Through Christ, this symbol has been transformed from an instrument of torture and oppression into a symbol of resurrection, salvation and eternal life.

Thus, one is likely to find Christian symbols within other contexts and cultures used in radically different ways. So, that the 40K universe has symbology similar to Christianity, but has a cosmology that is radically different is no real surprise. For my part, I would view it as my role to transform this symbology and the culture around it into its proper form — Christianity.

Thematically, the 40K universe is not much different than any number of human empires that had at their core a cult of personality. The Roman Empire, for example, had an emperor cult in much the same way that 40K does. Indeed, this cult of personality is a reason that there are fascistic and socialist overtones in the way the 40K universe is depicted.

If I were ever to play within the 40K universe again, it would likely be via Rogue Trader, which would allow me to introduce players to the underground Christian Church which has survived (through the grace of the Holy Spirit) alive and well into the 41st millenium. I would couple this with the revelation that the Emperor is one of the primary sources of Chaos in the universe (it helps consolidate his power by giving him an excuse to “protect” so many worlds with his iron fist and constant sweeps of his Inquisitors). Thus, players would be afforded an opportunity to take the symbols of the 40K universe and transform them — give them meaning by restoring them to their proper orientation towards God.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Holmes & Cook: The Assassin

Today I am going to hop into my Way Back Machine and end up in 1985 when I waisted more hours than I’d like to count playing The Bard’s Tale on my Commodore 64. While I am tempted to wax poetic about how much better it was than Wizardry (which also ate up a bunch of my time), how it owes a tremendous debt to D&D or how it emphasized exploration over story, these are not my primary reasons for reminiscing about one of my favorite computer games of my youth.

Rather, I bring it up as a starting point for what a Holmesian assassin might look like — one of the subclasses that Holmes hinted would be part of AD&D:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).
The Bard’s Tale, being (in essence) a D&D clone for the computer included several character classes which strongly resembled their D&D progenitors. Among these was the Hunter, which was described thusly:
An assassin, a mercenary, a ninja. The hunter can use most weapons, and has the ability (which grows with experience) to do critical hits in combat (i.e., to attack a nerve center or other vital area and instantly kill an opponent). A good skill.
Given that there really isn’t any kind of implied definition of what an assassin might be in either Holmes or Cook, it seems to me that this is as good a definition as any (especially since this thought experiment is about what my version of D&D might have looked like and The Bard’s Tale was definitely part of my gaming experience). The question then is what mechanic to use for the assassin’s critical hit ability.

Two suggest themselves from the rules of Holmes & Cook:
  • Some kind of percentile chance as per Thief skills. 
  • Most (if not all) of the monsters who have the ability to instantly kill a character allow for a saving throw to avoid death.
Whereas I think being able to instantly kill a dragon would be cool, it is only cool if it doesn’t happen frequently. Thus, I believe a combination of the two mechanics could be used. It would work as follows:
  • The base percentage for a critical hit would be based on the die roll of the assassin who hits her opponent. The number would be the difference between the roll and what was needed to hit. For example: if an assassin needed a ’15’ to hit an opponent, and rolled a ’20’ the base number for a critical hit would be 5%. 
  • This base number would then be modified based upon the level of the assassin. The average increase of Thief skills per level in Holmes & Cook is about 4%. Thus, for every level above 1st, the assassin adjusts the base chance of a critical hit by an additional 4%. 
  • Finally, if an assassin is successful at making a critical hit, the creature hit may make a saving throw vs. death to avoid instant death. A successful save means that normal damage is taken from the hit.
For example: an 8th level assassin (THAC0 17) successfully hits a red dragon (AC 2, HD 9) with a ’19’. She needed a ’15,’ so the base percentage for a critical hit is 4%. This is increased to 32% ([4 x 7] + 4) due to her level. Should she succeed in landing a critical hit, the red dragon would then need to roll a ‘6’ or higher on their save vs. death in order to avoid being instantly killed. I’m no math wizard, but I think that comes out to be about an 8% chance of the assassin instantly killing the dragon. Overall, an 8th level assassin has about a 2% chance per attack to instantly kill a red dragon. That feels about right.

Another example: a 5th level assassin (THAC0 17) rolls the same against an Ogre (AC 6, HD 4+1). Needing an ’11’ to hit, the base chance of a critical hit is 8% and 24% with level bonuses ([4 x 4] + 8). The ogre would need a ’10’ to save vs. death. In this case that is about a 12% shot at an instant kill. Overall, a 5th level assassin has about a 5% chance per hit to instantly kill an ogre. Again, that feels about right.

The assassin would loose all Thief skills save for Hide in Shadows and Move Silently but be able to use any weapon. Otherwise the assassin would function in every other way as a Thief.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Holmes & Cook: The Monk

I have been contemplating the Holmsian suggestion that the monk is a subclass of cleric. Given that the early iterations of the cleric class were psuedo-Christian, this strongly suggests that when Holmes mentions the monk, he is thinking of the western (Christian) monastic tradition rather than the Eastern (Asian) monastic tradition which eventually formed the basis of the D&D monk class.

The question then becomes what mechanics present in Holmes & Cook can be used to present a class that is similar to the cleric, but sufficiently different as to be a subclass while having at least a passing resemblance to the Christian monastic tradition. It is here that I have to give credit to Talysman and his work on what he calls the Cleric-without-spells. He divorces the class from Vancian magic by embracing the one mechanic that truly belongs to the cleric — Turning. It is from here that I will begin.

If one actually spends time at a monastery or reading the services that monks do on a daily basis, it becomes obvious that the primary vocation is not only prayer, but prayer for other people. This suggests that a Holmesian monk class should buff other characters through the Turning mechanic.

Thus, a monk would have a floating bonus that she can attempt to attach to any number of characters (for playability, this would include the monk herself). This bonus depends upon the monk's level:

  • 1st-3rd = +1
  • 4th-6th = +2
  • 7th-9th = +3
  • 10th+ = +4

The number of characters that the monk can attempt to affect and the chance of success is based upon the Turn Undead Table, where the Skeleton category of undead is one character and each progressive category increases that number by one. For example, a 1st level monk can affect one character on a 7 or more, two on a 9 or more, or three on an 11 or more. This bonus then lasts for 2d6 rounds. A ‘T’ indicates an automatic success and a ‘D’ indicates that the bonus will last for the maximum 12 rounds.

Here is a tentative list for the bonus categories a monk can choose:

  • To Hit Melee
  • To Hit Ranged
  • Damage
  • Armor Class
  • Saving Throw
  • Initiative

Any one category may only be attempted once per combat.

In addition, the monk can perform minor healing. Once per combat per character, the monk can heal their bonus in hit points. For example, a 7th level monk can heal a character for 3hp.

With the exception of spell casting, the monk functions as a cleric.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. John of Rila

Today is the Feast of St. John of Rila. He is a 9th-10th century monastic of Bulgaria and considered to be the country’s great spiritual ascetic and protector. His life follows a pattern found in many ascetic saints.

Born in a village in the region of what is now Sofia, he was orphaned as a boy. He became a cowherd in hire of a cruel man. It was here that he learned to pray. After being beaten for losing a cow and her calf, he called to God for help. He found the two separated by a raging river. After placing his tattered shirt on the water, he was able to walk on the water in order to save the calf. His master saw this miracle and rewarded John, but being afraid sent him away.

St. John then wandered the wilderness. At first, he lived in a hut, but was driven away by robbers. Later, he lived in a deep cave. He became known for miracle working.

Finally, the monastic feats of St. John began to spread far and wide and he began to attract followers. They built a monastery where St. John was abbot until he died in A.D. 946.

In other words, there is a period where the monastic has some form of patronage — whether as a slave, servant or pupil. Then the monk wanders the wilderness. Finally, followers come and a monastery is built.

Note that this pattern is very similar to the three stages of a D&D character. Lower levels stick close to a home base as they dungeon delve. At mid-levels they explore the wilderness. At high levels, a piece of wilderness is cleared to make way for a stronghold and the attraction of followers. This is also a pattern implied by an understanding of Law vs. Chaos being (Christian) Civilization vs. (Demonic) Wilderness.

I have argued before that adventuring parties can be seen as metaphors for this very monastic pattern; however, there is no real character class that is representative of the Christian monastic tradition. Clerics come the closest, but these are much more akin to what modern gamers see as the holy warrior/paladin than a contemplative monk.

As I mentioned in my last post, there was a moment in the history of the game where such a class was at least being contemplated. I believe that such a class would work in a world where sin is personified by monsters. The issue is figuring out how to differentiate it from a cleric while still making it interesting to play.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Holmes & Cook: The Alchemist Class

I have been contemplating these famous words from the Holmes Basic Edition:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).
In context of my long dormant thought experiment of using the Holmes Basic Edition with the Cook Expert Edition by defaulting to Holmes whenever possible, this preview of what was to come with AD&D is enticing, especially since history has since demonstrated that monks are not clerics and witches were never an official D&D class.

I have already produced versions of both the ranger and the paladin by taking advantage of the quirks found in the way combat functions in the Holes Edition. Since both of these are fighting men, I feel obligated to at least attempt to produce something for the other classes.

It seems to me that the easiest to tackle is the witch (though I will be altering that name because of the various negative connotations associated with it — especially since the rules seem to suggest a Christian culture in which a witch would hardly be welcome). I come to this conclusion based on the fact that illusionists, monks, druids and assassins are not easily inferred by the rules as they stand.

There aren’t many spells in Holmes & Cook that are illusory in nature — what exactly would an illusionist do, then? I have already voiced my own distaste for druids as PCs, but even so, there are very few elemental and nature related spells found in Holmes & Cook. Assuming that a druid would tend more toward spell casting than the basic cleric, it follows that the monk would be more combat oriented; however, what exactly does that mean — especially since the Western monastic tradition is mostly non-violent?

If one looks at literature and popular culture, however, the witch does suggest something hinted at in Holmes. Witches normally cast their spells via concoctions made in a caldron from various weird ingredients — a witches brew. Since low-level magic-users can make scrolls, Holmes suggests there are such things as potion spells and Cook has an alchemist as a specialist henchman, it follows that the witch class can be re-skinned as an alchemist.

Rather than casting memorized spells, the alchemist prepares various potions that have spell-effects. The advantage is that an alchemist can “cast” more spells on a given day because they can carry multiple potions. In addition (as a curious by-product of not having to cast spells while on an adventure), the alchemist can wear armor. The disadvantage is that only spells that can affect someone imbibing a potion are available — sorry, no Magic Missiles or Fireballs. Thus, the alchemist specializes in utility spells — something I’ve always been a big fan of.

The number of magic formula known by the alchemist is the same as the number of spells that a magic user can memorize per day. This number can be effected by Intelligence:

  • 13-15 = +1 first level
  • 16-17 = +1 first level, +1 second level
  • 18 = +1 first level, +1 second level, +1 third level

Thus, a first level alchemist with a 14 Intelligence would know how to make two different kinds of potions.

There is no limit as to how many potions an alchemist can carry, beyond what a Referee might determine via encumbrance; however, this number can be controlled in two ways:

  • Cost — just as magic users must pay 100gp per spell level to create a scroll, so will alchemists have to spend money on ingredients to make potions. My initial thinking is 25gp per level.
  • Safety — as an alchemist advances in level, they learn how to make their potions more durable and stable. An alchemist may safely carry a number of potions equal to her BMR x her level. If the alchemist is carrying more than this, any time the alchemist gets hit, a number of potions equal to the damage taken are lost (until the safety limit is reached). In addition, the alchemist must make a save vs. spells or take an additional 1 hp per potion destroyed due to a catastrophic failure of the potions. For example: A 2nd level alchemist wearing chain mail with a heavy load (BMR of 2) could safely carry 4 potions. If she were carrying 8 potions and got hit for 5 points of damage, 4 potions would be destroyed (since she has a safety threshold of 4 potions) and she would have to save vs. spells or take an additional 4 hp of damage.

Here is a tentative spell (potion) list:

1st Level

  1. Detect Magic
  2. Protection from Evil
  3. Read Languages
  4. Read Magic
  5. Shield
  6. Ventriloquism

2nd Level

  1. Detect Evil
  2. Detect Invisible
  3. Invisibility
  4. Levitate
  5. Locate Object
  6. Mirror Image

3rd Level

  1. Clairvoyance
  2. Fly
  3. Haste
  4. Infravision
  5. Protection from Normal Missiles
  6. Water Breathing

4th Level

  1. Confusion
  2. Invisibility 10’r.
  3. Polymorph Self
  4. Protection from Evil 10’r.
  5. Remove Curse
  6. Plant Growth

5th Level

  1. Animate Dead
  2. Anti-Magic Shield
  3. Contact Higher Plane
  4. Projected Image
  5. Telekinesis
  6. Teleport

Otherwise, the alchemist functions as a magic user.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saintly Saturday: The Miracle of St. Spyridon at Corfu

Today is the commemoration of a miracle performed by St. Spyridon at Corfu in 1716. St. Spyirdon is a 4th century saint from the island of Cyprus. He is normally depicted wearing what looks like a basket on his head. In fact, this is the traditional head gear of shepherds on the island during his lifetime. Originally a peasant shepherd, he was eventually elected as bishop of Trimythous in Cyprus. He attended the First Ecumenical Council and despite his lack of formal education was one of the most eloquent defenders of orthodoxy against Arianism.

His relics were originally transferred to Constantinople when Saracens conquered Cyrpus (beginning in the 7th century). His body was discovered to be incorrupt. When Constantinople fell, they were taken to the island of Corfu (one of the Greek islands in the Ionian Sea) and are still there today.

In 1716, the island of Corfu was under Venetian rule, but was being threatened by the Turks, who managed to gain a beach head and laid siege to the city. St. Spyridon was seen by Turkish soldiers walking through their camp at night holding a torch. This vision sent the Turkish forces into a panic and the siege was lifted after only 22 days. To this day, St. Spyridon is referred to as the Keeper of the City in Corfu.

While it might be tempting to dismiss this story as fancy, St. Spyridon is known as a “walking saint.” Every year the shoes that he wears must be replaced, because they get worn out — exactly as a pair of shoes would if someone were walking in them. It is taken as a sign that Spyridon regularly goes for walks about the island — wearing out his shoes.

As an aside, the island of Cyprus would be an awesome basis for a campaign. Due to its strategic placement in the Mediterranean, it has been conquered by a wide variety of cultures:

  • Mycanaean Greeks
  • Phoenicians
  • Assyrians
  • Egyptians
  • Persians
  • Alexandrian Greeks
  • Ptolemaic Egyptians
  • Romans
  • Byzantines
  • Saracens
  • Crusaders (Richard III of England)
  • Knights Templar
  • Holy Roman Empire
  • Venice
  • Ottomans
  • British
  • Turks

Thus, there are plenty of ruins from all kinds of cultures to explore. To boot, there are archeological finds in Cyprus that indicate some interesting fauna, including dwarf elephants and dwarf hippos.


The Shepherd’s Shoes

These humble looking footwear appear as old shoes, worn and full of holes; however, they do have a dweomer of magic about them. The effects of the shoes are based upon the alignment of the wearer. To all who wear them, they fit perfectly and are perfectly comfortable footwear despite their appearance. If the wearer is Lawful, the shoes provide protection from inclement weather, produce no tracks and reduce the need for rations by half. If the wearer is Chaotic, the shoes cannot be removed without a Remove Curse spell. During inclement weather, the wearer must Save vs. Poison or contract a disease. Regardless of the terrain, the wearer will leave obvious tracks that cannot be hidden and will remain for 1d6+1 days. In addition, ration consumption is doubled.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saintly Saturday: The Seven Youths of Ephesus

Today is the feast of the Seven Youths of Ephesus. Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustondianus and Antonius all lived during the third century. All of them were from illustrious families in the city of Ephesus (on the western coast of modern day Turkey), served in the military, were friends and were faithful Christians.

Upon the arrival of the emperor Decius, every citizen was required to sacrifice to the pagan gods. This, of course, led to the Seven answering to the emperor himself for their refusal to make the required sacrifices. After confessing their faith in Christ, however, Decius was moved to spare them — at least while he was away on a military campaign. The youths were stripped of their military ranks and set free.

They fled to a cave outside the city, where they prepared for their eventual martyrdom. When the Emperor found out, he had the cave sealed shut. Faithful Christians placed a plaque on the stone to commemorate the event.

Almost two centuries later, there was a heresy in the city of Ephesus that called into question the general resurrection at the second coming of Christ. The owner of the land on which the cave was situated found the plaque and had the cave uncovered. Rather than dying of dehydration and starvation, the Seven Youths had been preserved in sleep — nothing about or on them had either aged or decayed. Their presence, story and witness demonstrated that the heretics’ imaginations were nothing compared to the power of God.

There is not anything especially new about finding one or more persons from another age either in the wilderness or in a dungeon. Indeed, there are enough denizens within various old school D&D modules that it could almost be called a trope. What I find intriguing about the Seven Youths is the source and purpose of their torpor.

In D&D, when one encounters a person from another age, the source of their great age is usually some variation on the arcane. Liches are magic users that have figured out a way to become undead. Vampires are a variation on the same theme (though they may be victims rather than willing participants). Sleepers might be found in an arcanely produced cryogenic pod. If one expands the arcane to include science and science fiction cyborgs, and robots with human memories can be included in this group of beings that try to cheat death.

Often, these creatures hold a key to understanding the history of the dungeon/place where they are found. They have information which fills in the backstory of why the immediate surroundings are the way they are. They are a fantasy version of an interactive encyclopedia that might want to suck out your brains after getting the information you need.

The Seven Youths, however, are preserved not by the arcane experiments of someone afraid of death, but rather by God Himself. Indeed, the youths were in process of preparing for death. What I find most intriguing, however, is the information they possess. They were not meant to inform those of the present about the past, but rather about issues of the present day (and by implication the future).

This, of course, is a much greater challenge to a Referee/GM/DM than your average lich, which is why I find it so alluring. Saints, of course are always a plausible vehicle for such a find; however, the time traveller who miscalculates her arrival time in order to save the present or future also comes to mind...