Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Menas of Egypt

Today is the Feast of St. Menas of Egypt. His moniker comes from his birthplace and his martyrium. His life, however, took place mostly in Phrygia (central Turkey). During the reign of Diocletian, he not only distinguished himself as a soldier, but embraced the monastic life of a Christian. When orders came to persecute Christians, he renounced his rank and withdrew to the mountains. This took place in the city of Cotyaion (modern day K├╝tahya).

Once, when he was passing through the city, a pagan festival was going on. St. Menas loudly condemned the fete as impious. The prefect Pyrrhus had him arrested and, when the saint refused to take up his military rank as a bribe to denounce Christ, had St. Menas tortured.

As normally happens with martyrs, he endured many vile and cruel tortures through strength given him by God. When none of these worked, Pyrrhus was forced to have the saint beheaded. This is significant, because beheading is a citizen’s death. The crime Christians were accused of was treachery. Therefore, they didn’t deserve a citizen’s death. Over and over again, however, Christians were beheaded. Thus, the very state that was persecuting and killing Christians was declaring that the crime they were accusing Christians of was false.

After his death, Christians gathered up his relics, hid them and later moved them to Alexandria, Egypt. There, his relics became famous due to the number of miracles worked through them. His martyium became a place of pilgrimage. Evidence shows that these journeys came from all over the world, even from as far away as Ireland. To this day, he is still invoked as a healer, a protector from demons and as a finder of lost objects.

The idea of people in the ancient world traveling thousands of miles to visit a relic suggests a very interesting FRPG adventure set-up or even a campaign. There are plenty of examples of saints not allowing their relics to be moved and plenty of saints whose relics are incorrupt (thus suggesting that they cannot be destroyed). Thus, in a FRPG campaign world there could be a well known saint whose relics lie deep within (insert your favorite humanoid/monster race here) territory. The area once belonged to Civilization, but when it was overrun by monsters, the saint refused to leave and the monsters could not destroy the relics.

Today, there is still demand among the faithful to go on pilgrimage despite the dangers. Thus, an adventure could be written around the idea of a prince or other important person afflicted with a magical disease that they believe can only be cured by visiting the saint’s relics. The adventurers are hired to help with the expedition. Enterprising characters (especially clerics) could then spend a campaign rooting out the monsters so that the relics become the centerpiece of their Stronghold.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Advanced Edition SWCL + Mutants

As I was meditating on an “Advanced” version of SWCL and looking through some of my old gaming notes, it occurred to me that Goblinoid Games produced Mutant Future before it produced Advanced Edition Companion for LL. I also noted that I have endeavored a couple of times to create a Thundarr the Barbarian-esque take on D&D. Therefore, the beginning of idea began forming in my head: what if “Advanced” SWCL was a mash-up of stuff from SWCL, the stuff I’ve done with MMII and FF as well as elements from a Mutant Future/Gamma World-type setting?

Here is how I would do it:

Rather than the classic trope of a nuclear holocaust leading to the kinds of mutations one expects out of MF/GW, I would steer in the direction of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In other words, the thing that destroys civilization as we know it isn’t a nuclear conflagration, but rather the attempt to avoid such an event through genetic manipulation to create the perfect soldier. Thus, the end of the world comes with a "Gene War" rather than a nuclear one.

This scenario justifies the existence of elves, dwarves, halflings, beastmen and even mutants. All of these are attempts at super soldiers. It even justifies all kinds of cosmetic weirdness in human characters. What to play a blue-skinned warrior with a pink mohawk? Sure. Chalk it up to instability in the over-manufactured human genome.

An intro might look something like this:

Sometime in the future, the human race embarks on a journey to transform themselves by playing with their own genetic makeup. This coincided with the expansion of humanity into space. Inevitably, war happened. What the exact reason for fighting or who fought who is lost to time. In fact, no one rally even knows if they are over or still ongoing. Due to the genetic quest to find the perfect soldier, the conflicts that arose came to be known as the Gene Wars.

The planet that is now know as Ur is the site of a major space battle took place during the Gene Wars. Scores of damaged ships crash landed on Ur, bringing with them humanity, technology, and a menagerie of genetically engineered monsters. The space battle look place generations ago, and its significance is lost on all those who have descended from the survivors. However, the crash sites remain and there are still technologies and treasures of a much more advanced society still riddling the landscape.

Ur is now a planet of many races and monsters. Individuals from each generation rise up to brave the wilderness to find treasures and monsters at crash sites of the spaceships damaged from that long-forgotten battle.

I already have a collection of monsters I would deem MF/GW-worthy organized into three broad categories: Machine, Mutant and Alien. I would need to stat up some more classes/races: Mutants, Clones and Purebred Humans.

Thus, the final project in all this would include:

  • Humans
  • Dwarves
  • Elves
  • Halflings
  • MMII Elves
  • MMII Dwarves
  • Mongrelmen
  • Ursani
  • Tengi
  • Tabaxi
  • Mutants
  • Clones
  • Purebred Humans

In addition, it would contain all the monsters from SWCL, Swords & Shapeshifters, Fiends & Falchions as well as 30 more that fit in the MF/GW mold.

I can even imagine future/alien technology being described in terms of extant magic items from SWCL. For example:

Plasma Gun: Functions as a Magic Wand (Magic Missile usable 3 x a day); however, rather than being limited to the Magic-user class, it is usable by anyone but requires a Save to activate. 
Grenades: Function as a Scroll, but (again) usable by anyone but requires a Save to activate. Thus, you could have a Stun Grenade (Hold Person spell).

Or, should I just do up another Alternate Version of SWCL that just encompasses MF/GW and let folks mix and match as they wish?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Advanced Edition SWCL

One of my favorite (if not the favorite) retro-clones is Labyrinth Lord. As I have said on many occasions, the reason I like it so much is its modularity. Goblinoid Games has produced a whole line of compatible titles from different genres so that you can port into your game whatever ideas, races, classes, magic, items, etc. you want. In terms of playing AD&D, Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion is my favorite version because it gets rid of all the fiddly stuff I don’t like about 1e and smooths out the corners with all the stuff I love about B/X.

I have been busy of late making alternate versions of SWCL and I thought it would be fun to do an Advanced Edition treatment to the rules. The questions becomes, what exactly is missing from SWCL that would justify an “Advanced Edition?” Here are a few ideas:

  • Gnomes
  • Half-Elves
  • Half-Orcs
  • Illusionists
  • “Gygaxian” Monsters
  • Artifact/Relic-like Magic Items
  • Ability Inflation

In terms of the missing races, I want to take advantage of Moldvay’s description of Gnomes:
Gnomes are a human-like race related to dwarves
Sounds a bit like a half-dwarf. Thus, all the missing races can be understood to be half-bloods. As such, they can be any class just like their human parent; however, they don’t get the full-blown the racial abilities of their non-human parent. Rather, they get to advance in one of the Optional Classes without having to put in an extra adventure every level to advance. The Optional Classes would be as follows:

  • Half-Elf: Ranger
  • Half-Orc: Assassin
  • Gnome (Half-Dwarf): Illusionist

Speaking of the Illusionist Optional Class, we need to make one:
Illusionists function exactly as Thieves, except they can cast a limited number of Magic-user spells as if they were a magic-user of one level lower. The spells Illusionists can cast are as follows:
1st Level: Charm Person, Detect Magic, Light
2nd Level: Illusion, Invisibility
3rd Level: Dispel Magic, Summon (Illusory) Monster
By “Gygaxian” Monsters, I mean those monsters that suggest a monster ecology. For example, Hobgoblins can speak the language of carnivorous apes and these creatures can be found in Hobgoblin lairs. Therefore, the plan is to find 10 or so monsters that can interact with the monsters provided in SWCL to create more "Gygaxian" monster ecologies.

The Magic Items in SWCL are wonderfully simple and generic. The Magic Items of AD&D are often quite specific. For example: Sword +1 Flame Tongue +2 vs. regenerating creatures, +3 vs. cold-using or avian creatures, +4 vs. undead. What I am suggesting is that rather than introduce Hand of Vecna-level magical artifacts to the game, add some of those wonderfully specific magic items found in the 1e DMG as one-of-a-kind magic items worthy of going on a quest for.

Finally, for me, one of the most iconic aspects of AD&D (and one of its most ridiculous features) was exceptional Strength: all those fighters running around with 18/xx Strength. I have no real desire to go there; however, something must be done to encourage and reward players for being human, otherwise there are no human rangers, assassins, illusionists, etc. Thus, the Optional Rule that humans get to switch out their lowest stat with a 15 will become standard.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fiends & Falchions (SWCL)

Well, my latest alternate version of Swords & Wizardry Continual Light is finished, but this one feels different. It is SWCL. It is D&D stripped down to its essentials. Yet, it isn't.

I'll be interested to hear folk's impressions as they read this. Again, I really haven't done much to the nuts and bolts of SWCL, so I am curious if this reads any different for you.

As per usual, I have done my best to edit out typos and errors, but I am sure there are several riddled throughout that have gotten past these efforts. Please also consider this a thread for pointing out these errors. Thank you.

In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys! You can find the link here.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

FF Monsters and SWCL Part 2

Back when I first started looking into the FF seriously, I made the observation that the number of monster entries per page was significantly lower than the MMI. I chalked it up to the growing complexity of D&D and its inevitable crawl towards the rules-heavy editions to come. I also admitted that, despite being my favorite of all the early monster collections, there were a number of monsters I’d never used specifically because of the verbose entires and all the little fiddly bits associated with these creatures.

Now that I am actually converting a selection of FF creatures to SWCL, I find myself struggling to keep the texts describing several of these monsters short. Of course, by “short” I mean the one sentence descriptions that characterize so many of the creatures in SWCL. For example:
AC: 8[11] HD: 2 Attacks: +2, slam (1d6) Move: 6 Special: Undead
Shambling corpses who crave the blood and brains of the living.
Compare that to a similar HD undead creature that I’ve endeavored to convert from the FF:
AC: 2[17] HD: 2
Attacks: +2, claw (1d4) Move: 6
Special: Undead; Immune to Normal Weapons; Disease; Spellcasting; Vulnerable to Silver
Robed, worm-eaten walking corpses can cast Illusion on themselves three times a day to appear to be normal. When hit, victims must make a Save or get a diseased that prevents all magical healing until the victim receives a Cure Condition spell. Huecuva take +1 damage from silver weapons.
Note that I have seriously trimmed this down from its original and even from its simplified version in the S&W edition of Tome of Horrors Complete.

To put this more concretely, SWCL averages 6 monster entries per page. When I put together Swords & Shapeshifters, I managed to get 7 monster entries per page. I am guesstimating that I’ll be around 4 entires per page when I am done typesetting my FF version of SWCL.

It's fascinating that, despite my efforts at finding the simplest way to present these monsters, I am finding myself following in the footsteps of Don Turnbull and company. I am writing verbose monster descriptions and I am beginning to understand why.

The monsters that inhabit both SWCL and MMI are largely creatures that pervade our cultural consciousness. Even if someone who doesn’t play D&D or has never read Tolkien will still have an idea of what an orc is. Certainly the word “zombie” needs little to no description at all.

In contrast, the FF is full of creatures that the average person may have never heard of before. Huecuva certainly falls into this category. Whereas I can assume most people will be able to fill in the blanks when it comes to goblins, orcs and zombies, I can’t when it comes to creatures like the huecuva, volt and even the somewhat familiar flind.

In retrospect, this may be what has so powerfully drawn me towards the FF: there are very little cultural preconceptions about the creatures found in its pages. Therefore, I am more free to expect more of what I want from them than I ever could from an orc.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Joannicius the Great

Today is the Feast of Joannicius the Great. He was born in A.D. 752 in Bithynia (in modern-day Turkey) to faithful but very poor parents. Their only wealth was some cattle, which Joanicius would tend, often using it as a means of prayer and using the Sign of the Cross to ward away both beast and thief.

When emperor Leo IV came to power in A.D. 775, he instituted a draft and Joannicius was chosen from his village to serve. He did so with bravery and earned the respect of his fellow soldiers. He was rewarded more than once by both his commanders and the emperor himself for striking fear into the hearts of his enemy. He served in the military for six years, but he knew that the life of a soldier was not his calling.

When he was able to leave the imperial army he wanted to become a hermit, but at the direction of a spiritual elder, he spent a couple of years in a monastery to learn the monastic life. He then went into the wilderness to finally become a hermit. He spent time with other monastics saints, became known as a miracle worker and finally retired to Antidiev monastery were he died at the age of 94 in A.D. 846.

From the perspective of RPGs, I find the life of St. Joannicius fascinating because it demonstrates how grounded in reality the character creation system of Classic Traveller is, one of my favorite subsystems of any RPG in existence. Though he is famous for being a hermit, along the way he was, for lack of a better term, a cattle rancher, a soldier and a monk. If he were an RPG character, his character creation process would have gone through a couple of careers, garnered a wide variety of skills prior to becoming an adventurer (a hermit wandering the Wilderness).

The closest to this idea that I have ever seen in FRPGs is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game; however, the career changes happen as part of character advancement, not as a precursor to becoming an adventurer. A close second is the 0-level character concept that I first encountered in Goodman Games modules like DCC35A: Halls of the Minotaur. Neither of these, though, scratch the itch for a Classic Traveller-esque mini-game of character creation.

In the ACKS Players Companion there might just be a foundation upon which to build one for B/X. Therein is a section called Custom Classes which reverse engineered all the B/X classes to come up with a system to build campaign-specific classes with all variety of possibilities. A character gets a total of 4 points to spend on Hit Point Value, Fighting Value, Thieving Value, Divine Value and Arcane Value. Certain aspects of these can be traded in for special abilities which can further be expanded if they are delayed across levels.

Using these concepts, it might just be possible to create a series of tables to, like Classic Traveller, create a fantasy character, their life prior to becoming adventurer and the skills/abilities that they picked up along the way.

This is where I must disappoint. I don’t have the time or energy to put something like this together at the moment; however, I am going to bookmark this idea and come back to it at some point. Or, maybe someone else can have a go…

Friday, November 3, 2017

FF Monsters and SWCL

I am in process of converting a bunch of FF monsters to SWCL and it is actually kind of a fascinating process, assuming that one can only use the FF as a source (which I am). Besides the various systemic differences (which, to be honest, are really just figuring out ways to trim down the mechanics to their most elegant simplicity) I am facing three larger issues:

  1. Non-OGL monsters. One of the most iconic monsters of the FF (the Githyanki) and one of my favorite (and criminally under-utilized) monsters (the Slaad) are non-OGL and therefore have to be re-imagined in ways that feel familiar but, for legal reasons, are different.
  2. References to creature outside the FF. The best example of this is the Flind. These are a special type of Gnoll, which don’t exist within the confines of the FF. To a lesser extent, this is also an issue with the Githyanki because their lore so heavily relies upon the Mind-Flayer, which not only doesn’t exist within the confines of the FF, but are also non-OGL.
  3. There are about 160 monster entries in the FF. Due to the scope of SWCL, that number needs to be trimmed to about 30 and those 30 need to present something that resembles a cohesive science-fantasy world-view.

The first is actually probably the easiest of the three to solve because I have already treaded these waters before. I have a collection of monsters I used when I wrote The Caves of Cormikir, which was my version of B2:The Keep on the Borderlands that conceptually would have been part of the Basic D&D boxed set had the FF been the source of all the monsters. I also have my own version of the Githyanki that I have used for years in my Lost Colonies campaign.

Nonetheless, I still have to cut out the creature references from sources outside of the FF. There are two main ways I plan to do that:

In the case of the Flind, being described as hyena-men gives me leeway to create an entire class of monsters called “Beastmen” of which the Flind is a type. This then gives me the freedom to re-skin virtually all the of various humanoid monsters as some variation of the “beastman type.” Bullywugs become frogmen. Kuo-Toa become fishmen. Grimlocks become molemen, etc. This also allows me to re-skin Flinds, Ogrillons and Lizard Kings as exceptional types that exist within all variations of beastmen.

The second main strategy is to re-write the narrative behind the Githyanki (Sons of Cyn). Rather than their ancient conflict being with the Illithid, that conflict will be with the Slaad. Since the the number if demons and devils in the FF is rather sparse and since their really is no significant difference between Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Evil in my book, the Slaad will also be a nice stand-in for demons and devils (I’ll call them Fiends of Entropy as a little nod to the title of FF).

This conflict, rather than happening across various planes of Gygax’s cosmology, happens, for lack of a better phrase, in the Prime Material Plane. As a consequence, creation itself has begun to rebel. This is the origin of things like dragons, who are more personifications of elemental forces than a traditional D&D dragon. Since FF dragons are “Oriental” I’ll use the five-point Asian elemental system rather than the four-point European. This will give a framework from which to understand all of the creatures I choose: they have evolved out of this greater conflict between the Sons of Cyn and the Fiends of Entropy.

This, then, gives me a criteria to trim the fat, as it were. If I can’t see a way to include a creature in these two frameworks (beastmen and the conflict between the Sons of Cyn and the Fiends of Entropy), I just won’t include it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Long before I ever went through the Monster Manual 2 to see what would happen to B/X if the only monsters available to Moldvay came from the MMII, I did the very same thought experiment with my personal favorite the Fiend Folio. Since I have already produced a version of SWCL that uses only MMII monsters, I thought I'd do the same with the monsters of the Fiend Folio. So, as a preview, here is the cover art: