Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saintly Saturday: The 26 Monk-Martyrs of Zographou Monastery on Mt. Athos

Today is an interesting feast: the 26 Monk-Martyrs of Zographou Monastery on Mt. Athos. My interest is in the fact that it is part of the larger story of the Great Schism.

The popular date for the schism between East and West Christendom is 1054. This is due to a very dramatic event: the papal legate assigned to Constantinople angrily placed a papal bull of excommunication upon the altar table of the Patriarch of Constantinople during a liturgy. This event, however, only signified one argument among many between Rome and Constantinople during which time other Eastern jurisdictions remained in communion with Rome.

The truth is that the Great Schism was a process more than a single event. The seeds were planted as early as the 8th century when the Franks began to distinguish themselves from Constantinople and eventually claimed to be the true heirs of the Roman Empire.

The single most important event in the whole process (at least in the minds of Eastern Christians) is the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204. The City had been unconquerable for almost one thousand years and it falls, not to pagan barbarians, not to the great Roman enemy the Persians or to the Ottoman Turks, but to fellow Christians from the West. It was a deep and bitter betrayal.

Constantinople became vulnerable. It is in this context that the story of the 26 Monk-Martyrs of Zographou Monastery is told. In 1274, Emperor Michael VIII accepted union with the Roman Church in the face of threats from both East and West. The Union of Lyons stipulated a recognition of Papal authority, the use of the Filioque in the Creed and the use of unleavened bread for communion.

With the sacking of Constantinople fresh in their minds, most of the Orthodox East rejected the Union of Lyons, including Patriarch Joseph, who was deposed. It is even reported that the emperor’s own sister remarked, “It is better that my brother’s empire should perish, rather than the purity of the Orthodox Faith.”

The 26 Monk-Martyrs of Zographou Monastery were among those who were persecuted for refusing to submit to an imperial edict that demanded acceptance of the Union. When imperial forces were sent to Mt. Athos to enforce the imperial policy, the martyrs locked themselves inside the monastery and reproached the imperial forces from inside. The attackers set fire to the building and all twenty-six monks were burned alive.

In truth, the Great Schism didn’t fully come to be until East and West stopped talking to each other after Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans in 1453.


Flaming Ghoul

Let fiery wrath swallow up the survivor, and destruction overtake those who oppress your people. — Sirach 36:8

Number Appearing: 1d6
% in Lair: 80%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: 6
Move: 9
Hit Dice: 2 (turn as 3 HD)
Attacks: 1d3/1d3 + flame
Special: see below
Save: F2
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: XXI
XP: 47

These restless dead are normally the angry victims of persecution — especially those who were burned to death. They resemble normal ghouls, save for the fact that their flesh is charred instead of desiccated. While in combat, they burst into a magical flame. Those in melee with them must make a Save vs. Breath or take 1d3 heat damage every round. Anyone who is hit by the claw of a flaming ghoul must make an additional Save vs. Breath or catch fire. Those on fire will automatically take 1d3 points of damage per round that the flame is not put out. It takes one full round to put a flame out. Anyone who dies from the flame will rise as a flaming ghoul. Those under the effects of a Bless spell are immune to the flames.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Saintly Saturday: St. Sisoës the Great

Today is the feast of Sisoës the Great, a monastic saint of the fourth century. He began his ascetic trials at the monastery Nitria, just outside of Alexandria, Egypt. After the death of St. Antony the Great, St. Sisoës went out into the desert to live in the same cave that Antony died in. He lived a life emphasizing humility, as is evidenced by the story of his death.

As his brother monks gathered around his death bed, the face of St. Sisoës began to shine as if the sun. When prompted, he began to describe the coming of St. Antony, then the Prophets and then the Apostles. He then began to speak. When his brothers asked who he was speaking to, the saint explained that the angels had come for his soul and he was begging for more time to repent.

The monks tried to argue that he had no need of repentance, but the saint replied, “I do not think that I have even begun to repent.”

The light of his countenance then became unbearable as he explained the the Lord was coming. Then there was a great flash of light, the air was filled with a sweet fragrance and then (as the Orthodox Church likes to say) St. Sisoës fell asleep in the Lord.

As inspiring as this story is, I want to talk about this icon:

It is called The Astonishment of Sisoës the Great and depicts the saint at the tomb of Alexander the Great.

During the fourth century, Emperor Theodosius began to issue a series of decrees outlawing the worship of pagan gods. At this time, Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria obtained the legal authority over a pagan temple (some accounts have Dionysus, others Mithraeum), which he intended to renovate into a Church. When secret caverns beneath the temple were discovered, this caused a major conflict between the pagans and Christians. The pagans were forced to retreat into the Serapeum, the main pagan temple, taking Christians as hostages. Though many Christians were tortured and thrown into pits used for blood sacrifice, Theophilus asked for leniency from the Emperor; however, he did ask that all pagan images be destroyed. As a result, the Serapeum was demolished by a combination of Roman soldiers and monks. It is at this time that the remains of Alexander the Great disappeared from the historical record.

St. Sisoës was a contemporary of these events, thus, despite a lack of any written record, what is depicted in the icon is probably an actual occurrence.

The inscription on the icon reads thusly:
Sisoës, the great ascetic, before the tomb of Alexander, King of the Greeks, who was once covered in glory. Astonished, he mourns for the vicissitudes of time and the transience of glory, and tearfully declaims thus:

“The mere sight of you, tomb, dismays me and causes my heart to shed tears, as I contemplate the debt we, all men, owe. How can I possibly stand it? Oh, death! Who can evade you?”
In other words, it doesn’t matter if you are one of the greatest kings in the history of the world, or if you have conquered all the world, or gathered riches from all the world: in the end death makes us all a pile of bones.

An interesting note about the Serapeum: it is named for the Ptolemaic pagan god Serapis. He was named the protector of Alexandria and was a syncretic combination of Osiris and Apis. This was done so that these local gods could be accepted by the Greeks, who ruled Egypt after Alexander until Egypt fell to Rome. I find it fascinating how politics helped create a pagan cult which became the center of pagan worship in Alexandria.

Besides exposing me as a history geek, this story has an interesting twist on factions within a dungeon — faction can be outside the dungeon fighting each other for the right to explore/protect/go in. Thus, the PCs have to negotiate with various parties to get into the dungeon, and may find that the control of the dungeon entrance has changed when they return to the surface (giving the DM/Ref/LL/Judge plenty of opportunity to have fun with the players).

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saintly Saturday: Sts. Peter and Paul

Today is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, paramount of the Apostles. Normally, I would write a brief summary of the life of these two great men; however, we know so much about them from the Gospels and from the letters that they have written to us, I find it difficult to write any kind of summary other than to invite everyone to re-read (or read for the first time) those very same letters that each man has left us.

Of all of these letters, the Orthodox Church reads a pericope from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. In it, he highlights the various ways that he has suffered for Christ:
Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Though I do not even pretend to see these things in the same ballpark, I am reminded of the various and sundry ways that RPG players have shared our stories of the trials, tribulations and even deaths of our characters from all of the campaigns we have played through the years. I and others have often mused about the lethality of older editions of D&D (as well as a number of games that the OSR has spawned).

One might be tempted to ask, therefore, why would one even want to play a game in which character death seems almost inevitable? To answer that question, let me share with you the musings of St. John Chrysostom on the very pericope the Orthodox Church reads today:
For this is the brilliant victory, this is the Church’s trophy, thus is the Devil overthrown when we suffer injury. For when we suffer, he is taken captive; and himself suffers harm, when he would fain inflict it on us. And this happened in Paul’s case also; and the more he plied him with perils, the more was he defeated.
While most spectacularly understood in context of the lives of the apostles (who all, with the exception of St. John the Evangalist, were martyred), this quote of St. John Chrysostom does speak to one of the reasons why RPGs are so appealing — especially to me and especially the older editions of D&D and their clones.

Whether a metaphor for (Christian) Civilization vs. the (Demonic) Wilderness or humanity vs. death, RPGs allow us to stand in defiance of our own inevitable death. We get to die a thousand deaths, struggling to survive against all odds and have fun doing it.

To my mind, the reason that it is so much fun, despite the ever-present possibility that my character will come to some grisly end deep in the darkest part of the Wilderness or Underworld, is that the criteria of victory has nothing to do with anyone but we who play the game.

In the same way that Christ’s victory (His crucifixion) seems like foolishness to the world, what constitutes victory in an RPG is not written into any game mechanic, rule or even expectation. Victory is simply defined by how I, or anyone one who plays the game, wants to define victory. And sometimes, that even means a gloriously brutal death somewhere deep in the Wilderness or Underground.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Inquisitor Class for ACKS

Over the years, I have converted various campaign worlds to different systems. Every time, whether I like it or not, the mechanical assumptions of the system affect the world in question. For example, in converting Averoigne to ACKS and its system of Custom Classes and Proficiencies, it virtually eliminates the need for all of my musings on level titles.

There is also a much clearer distinction between divine and arcane magic than in Holmes. Given a world where the arcane magic is more naturally aligned with Chaos, where magic can affect large populations and where sin can manifest physically, there is an institutional need for some kind of check on everything arcane. Historically, France did participate in the Inquisition. While this institution (rightly) is held up as a blemish on the history of Christendom, there is a (potentially positive) place for it in Averoigne, where all of the above are true. Thus, my conversion of Averoigne to ACKS now includes the Inquisitor Class:

Inquisitor Class for ACKS

Prime Requisite: STR and WIS
Requirements: Must be Lawful
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14
Inquisitors are monster hunters. Some are officials of the Salien Empire that hunt down and root out the Chaotic use of arcane magic, others are simply the faithful dedicated to ridding the world of evil magic and the creatures it spawns. In this quest they are able to use bows and flails/maces/hammers, wear chain mail or lighter armor and shield and use two fighting styles: weapon + shield and two-handed weapon. They also are able to cast divine magic and Turn as clerics of half their character level. In addition, they have the following Custom Powers:

  • Arcane Hunter Inquisitors are filled with zeal to destroy Chaotic magic creatures (which includes mages). They gain a +1 to attack rolls against these creatures. This increases to +2 at 7th level and +3 at 13th level.
  • Detect Power Inquisitors can detect spellcasters within 60' and estimate their level of power relative to their own. They can also tell when arcane magic has been used within the last 24 hours within the same vicinity. (The only way they sense whether an item is magic is if it has been used in the last 24 hours.) Each use takes a turn.
  • Perceive Intentions Inquisitors have spent a lifetime reading reactions of creatures they interact with, even if the creatures attempt to lie or conceal their reactions. Inquisitors always know the reaction roll (Hostile, Unfriendly, etc.) of creatures encountered as long as the creature’s CHA is not greater than the character’s WIS (the character will know these creatures are immune).
  • Detect Evil At 2nd level, an Inquisitor can detect evil (as the spell) up to 60' away simply by concentrating. Each use takes a turn.
  • Judgement At 4th level, the Inquisitor can pronounce judgement against another creature once per day. [This is the same as the Hex custom power].
  • Resistent At 9th level, an Inquisitor has been hunting monsters for so long, that they become resistant to various kinds of tribulations. They gain a +2 to all saves.[This is the same as the Divine Blessings custom power].

Inquisitor Proficiency List: Alertness, Battle Magic, Blind Fighting, Combat Trickery (force back, overrun, sunder), Command, Contemplation, Diplomacy, Eavesdropping, Endurance, Divine Health, Fighting Style, Goblin-slaying, Healing, Knowledge (history), Laying on Hands, Leadership, Loremastery, Martial Training, Precise Shooting, Profession (judge), Skirmishing, Quiet Magic, Righteous Turning, Tracking, Theology, Unflappable Casting, Weapon Focus, Wakefulness

Inquisitors fight and save as fighters and use the Castle rules to build a Stronghold at 9th level.

XP Progression looks like this:
  • Level 2: 2,350
  • Level 3: 4,700
  • Level 4: 9,400
  • Level 5: 18,800
  • Level 6: 37,600
  • Level 7: 75,200
  • Level 8: 150,400
  • Level 9: 270,400
  • Level 10: 390,400
  • Level 11: 510,400
  • Level 12: 630,400
  • Level 13: 750,400
  • Level 14: 870,400

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saintly Saturday: The Prophet Amos

Today is the Feast of the Prophet Amos. According to the witness of the Book of Prophecy named after him, he was a shepherd, herdsman and a dresser of fig trees from the village of Thekoue, which was about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. Though an unlearned man, his were the first of the prophecies to be written down. This is likely due to the fact that he was the first to warn Israel that God was going to lift up His protective hand due to their stubborn unrepentance.

The opening lines of the Book of Amos refer to the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam, kings of Judah as well as an earthquake. Josephus recorded that there was a great earthquake that took place when Uzziah was king and afflicted with leprosy. The earthquake was so significant that Zechariah wrote about it 200 years later.

All of these historical references place the time when Amos was proclaiming his prophecies from about 795 B.C. to about 754 B.C. It is probable, therefore, that he was a contemporary of Jonah, Elisha, Isaiah and Micah. At the end of his career, he went to Bethel in the Northern Kingdom (Israel split into two kingdoms after the death of King Solomon, with Judah being the Southern Kingdom). There, the priests, led by Amasias, clubbed him to death because they tired of his warnings. Less than thirty years later, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians.

For those interested in setting up a sandbox campaign, there is a lot of really interesting information that can be mined from the nine chapters found in the Book of Amos:

  • Damascus (also referred to as Bikath-Aven, which means Valley of Wickedness) is ruled by the House of Hazael. It is guarded by a great gate. The current ruler is Ben-Hadad who holds some kind of scepter as the sign of his office (is it some kind of powerful magic item or relic?). The palace is referred to as Beth-Eden (which means House of Pleasure). The people are called the Aram who originally are from Kir. They have recently conquered the city of Gilead.
  • Philistia has four major cities: Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron. There was a fifth, but it was destroyed by the House of Hazael. There is another scepter in Ashkelon. They engage in a slave trade with Edom.
  • Tyre also engages in the slave trade, specifically those captured from Judah and the Northern Kingdom. This is a betrayal of an alliance made with Israel in the days of Solomon.
  • Edom (also called Teman) is a slavers kingdom. There are a number of palaces in the city of Bozrah (which suggests that there are several families which engage in the trade and have some kind of alliance or agreement on various slaving practices and trade routes).
  • Ammon is an ally of Damascus and took part in the sacking of Gilead where Ammonite troops took part in atrocities (it is recorded that they disemboweled pregnant women). They were paid for their part in the battle with more territory. The capital city is called Rabbah.
  • Moab is an enemy of Edom. They recently captured the king of Edom and burnt his bones (which, in the belief of the people of the region, would deny him happiness in the afterlife and, thus, is considered an act of extreme desecration). The major city is called Kerioth.
  • Israel (also called the Northern Kingdom) has a very wealthy and powerful aristocracy (there is reference to entire walls being carved from ivory). This wealth comes on the back of a desperately poor and oppressed peasantry. The major city is Bethel. They have abandoned the worship of God in favor of Sakkuth (who might be associated with Saturn) and Kaiwan who is associated with stars. This suggests that the priests of Bethel are astrologers. Bersheeba, a renowned shrine used by the patriarchs, can be found in the southern part of the kingdom.
  • Judah (also called the Southern Kingdom) is ruled over by the leper king Uzziah. Though more faithful to God than Israel, the worship of idols is widespread.

For the purposes of utilizing all of this for a typical FRPG campaign, one can say that the massive earthquake mentioned in the Books of Amos and Zechariah as well as by Josephus created a massive chasm in the earth within spitting distance of the PCs base of operations (whether that be in the Northern or Southern Kingdom). Vile creatures have been pouring forth from this chasm, raiding and pillaging.

Thus, there is a source for monstrous creatures, a dungeon complex in which can be found treasure close to the PCs base of operations  and a rich political tapestry that forms a bunch of background noise that PCs can take advantage of at higher levels.

For myself, I would be tempted to dip my toe into re-imaging the Slave Pits again, especially with the new release of Against the Slave Lords due out this week with the new introductory adventure Danger at Darkshelf Quarry. A quarry can easily be re-imagined as a chasm and Edom would fill the role of the Slave Lords very nicely, especially if one of the families was delving into a market that it wanted kept secret from the other families.

For other ideas to fill out an Amos-inspired sandbox, check out some of my other posts on OT prophets here, here and here.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Saintly Saturday: Icon of the Mother of God of White Lake

Today is the Feast of the Icon of the Mother of God of White Lake. This particular icon belonged to St. Cyril of White Lake, a hermit who began his monastic career at the Siminov Monastery in Moscow at the end of the 14th century. While doing an Akathist in his cell in front of the Icon he heard a voice: Go to White Lake, where I have prepared a place for you. He then received a vision of the place he was to go.

He left the monastery and went to White Lake, to the place he saw in his vision. There he set up a cross and dug a cell in the ground near Mount Myaura in the Vologda region of Russia.

This sounds like a great location-based encounter area:

Near White Lake (or another appropriate body of water) there is a large wooden cross. Next to it is a man-made cave. Inside are the remains of a long-dead man laying in front of an icon carved into the rock. When someone prays in front of the icon seeking the location of an object, person or place, the supplicant will receive a vision of the immediate area where that object, person or place can be found.

If the PCs show the proper respect to the body, the hermit saint that carved the icon and lived in the cave will grant them a boon (like re-roll one saving throw and take the better of the two rolls).

Alternatively, the hermit could still be alive and well. I would personally play him as a curmudgeonly fool-for-Christ, quite able to tell the PCs all kinds of interesting things if they are willing to get past the scathing criticism that flies from his mouth.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Turning Reskinned

Let me start by saying that this post will fly in the face of today’s perceived dichotomy between Christianity and science; however, as I have stated many times, this is a false dichotomy. Not only have Church Fathers throughout the ages supported scientific study and a cultivation of the mind, but modern science and the scientific method are children of the Christian world view — one needs the orderly universe created by the Trinitarian God that is not full of divine beings in order to believe that it can be predictable and reliable enough to observe and test.

It is only when one tries to answer such questions as Who is God? and What is the meaning of life? with science that one runs into a conflict. Such questions are rightly left to theology because science cannot answer them without abandoning the scientific method and becoming a faith unto itself.

With that preamble, let me call your attention to this video, which is rare footage of an oarfish in the wild (fast forward to about the 3:30 mark to get a good look):

Although this deep water fish looks tiny in the video, the reality is that these fish can be anywhere from 15-56 feet long. Therefore, it has been hypothesized that the oarfish is the source of various sea serpent stories from times of yore. As can be seen from the video, the reality is much less frightening than humanity’s ability to imagine the monstrous.

This got me thinking about a way to re-skin the concept of Turning. While the origin of the mechanic is the image of Van Helsing keeping Dracula at bay with a cross, another way of understanding the mechanic is akin to the video above — stripping away the monstrous imagining of humanity to reveal the mundane reality.

I come to this from the perspective of both the classic D&D trope of the (Chaotic) Wilderness vs. (Lawful) Civilization as well as the idea that monsters are sin personified. In a world where sin becomes manifest as all the dark imaginings of humanity from myth and story, the Christian (as the champion of Lawful Civilization) becomes the mechanism by which the Chaotic Wilderness is tamed by revealing the mundane by stripping away the demonic.

Thus, when a party encounters a group of zombies which are successfully Turned by the party’s cleric, the supposed undead (rather than running away) are revealed to merely be dead bodies, carvings on a wall or an unusual shadow cast by torch light; however, lower level clerics are unable to completely convince or control the dark and fallen imagination of either themselves or their party members. Thus, the zombies will eventually return until such time that the cleric can “destroy” them by having faith in the God who declared His creation very good.

The cleric, in other words, becomes the video camera that reveals that ancient seas serpents are actually oarfish.

One interesting consequence of this re-skinning is the possibility with such a set-up that the Mythic Underground and the Dungeon-as-semi-intelligent-NPC are actually creations of our own making — manifestations of our own sins and fears.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Should a Blue Mage be for ACKS?

I have to admit, I am still struggling with the concept of the Blue Mage for the ACKS conversion of my Averoigne campaign. My Preference would be to do a kind of elemental mage that specializes in water magic (thus the moniker blue); however, there aren’t a lot of elemental/water-type of Custom Powers. There are, however, several options for creating an Illusionist-type mage, which could be a stand-in for the blue moniker (referring to the type of aura their magics give off when detected?).

Thus, I have three concepts that I would like to float and get a general reaction to (with an emphasis on which of the following would you prefer to play):

Option One: Water Elemental Specialist

Blue Mages focus on the self discipline of water elemental magic. As a result, they only cast arcane magic at 2/3 of their level (slower spell progression); however, spells using the water element do an extra +1 to each Hit Die. Blue mages can also do minor magic research on water elemental spells at 5th (all others at 7th) and major magic research at 11th (all others at 13th). Their study with water elemental magic begins with a mastery of the movement of water within their own body. This control has two effects:

  • A blue mage is better at fighting than other mages, fighting with the same progression as a cleric. Though, like other mages, they cannot use armor, they are able to use daggers, pole arms, short bows, spears and staffs.
  • The blue mage has a natural +2 to AC and may reduce non-magical damage by 1 point per die. This increases to +4 AC and 2 points per die at 7th level and +6 AC and 3 points per die at 13th level. These bonuses stack with rings of protection and similar effects. Attacks from monsters of 5HD or more are considered magical. [This is the same as the Flesh Runes custom power.]

XP necessary for 2nd level would be 2375.

Option Two: Illusionist via Custom Powers

This concept follows the template of the brown and white mages. They cast at 2/3 of their level (slower spell progression); however, they are Masters of Illusion.Targets of their illusion spells are at a -2 to the save. Blue mages can also do minor magic research on illusion spells at 5th (all others at 7th) and major magic research at 11th (all others at 13th). In addition, they gain several Custom Powers:

  • At 1st level, a blue mage can blend into any environment. They always receive at least a 12+ proficiency roll to hide. [Same as wearing an elven cloak.]
  • At 3rd level, a blue mage can cast Ventriliquism at will.
  • At 5th level, a blue mage never quite appears exactly where they actually are. Therefore, they gain +2 to all saves. [Same as Divine Blessing custom power.]
  • At 7th level, a blue mage can cast the Alter Self spell once per 8 hours. [Alter Shape custom power.]

XP necessary for 2nd level would be 2075.

Option Three: Borrow Spells from the AEC

This option uses the same basic rules as a regular mage with the following alterations:

  • The arcane spell list is switched out with the Illusionist spell list from the AEC for Labrynith Lord.
  • By giving up the Two-handed fighting style, they gain the custom power Innate Illusion Mastery. Thus, targets of illusions are at -2 to save and illusion spell research happens as if 2 levels higher (which, could be interpreted to mean that minor magic research can start at 3rd level). 

As with grey mages, this version of blue mage would be required by law to belong to the Mages Guild and would be closely monitored.

So, which option would you rather play?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Saintly Saturday: St. Justin the Philosopher

Today is the feast day of a saint with whom I feel a very deep connection, because we both came to faith in Christ from a similar place. St. Justin the Philosopher and Martyr was born in Palestine to Greek parents. He travelled the world learning the great philosophies of his age, seeking the philosophy of philosophies. After witnessing the martyrdom of some Christians, he was moved to find out about what would fill someone with so much faith, strength and resolve.

When he encountered the teaching of the Church, he found what he was looking for. He donned (or continued to don) the philosopher’s robe and became a teacher of what he understood to be the philosophy of philosophies. He would go on to write several very important works, the most famous of which are his First and Second Apologies as well as the Dialogue with Trypho. All three were written in the middle of the second century A.D. and are therefore witnesses to how the ancient Church interpreted Scripture and what the liturgy of the ancient Church looked like.

Ironically, his martyrdom came at the hands of two philosophers. He had a professional rivalry with Crescens the Cynic, who the martyr predicted would use Christianity as an excuse to have the saint killed. When this prediction came to fruition, St. Justin was turned over to the forces of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180) — a Stoic philosopher who argued that the ideal society should be lead by philosopher kings such as himself.

St. Justin was martyred in Rome.

One of the arguments that St. Justin makes in his First Apology is relevant to a way of marrying the Christian world view with the Sword & Sorcery pulp roots of D&D:
For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself.
St. Justin is playing with the Greek word δαίμων which, to the pagan mind, means god and to the Christian mind refers to fallen angels, aka demons. St. Justin later demonstrates the irony of seeing it a good thing to be an imitator of a δαίμων:
But far be such a thought concerning the gods from every well-conditioned soul, as to believe that Jupiter himself, the governor and creator of all things, was both a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that being overcome by the love of base and shameful pleasures, he came in to Ganymede and those many women whom he had violated and that his sons did like actions. But, as we said above, wicked demons perpetrated these things.
Thus, all the pagan gods one might find in a typical S&S-inspired D&D campaign are, from the view-point of St. Justin, demons. Ironically, given the history of the game and the Satanist-scare of the eighties, Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes and Deities and Demigods (especially in its original edition with the Cthuhu Mythos) actually support St. Justin’s view.

Demons and Devils have stats — Hit Dice, Armor Class, etc. This makes them monsters that PCs can hunt down and defeat. Both Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes and Deities and Demigods give various pantheons of pagan gods stats — Hit Dice, Armor Class, etc. equating them with demons and devils — monsters that PCs can hunt down and destroy.

In terms of arcane vs. divine magic and clerics of various pagan cults, ACKS actually gives a very potent answer. In the ACKS Players Companion, it is possible to trade out Turning for other custom powers. Thus, it is possible to create a plethora of different classes to reflect various pagan cults with their own spell lists. For those who take issue with the idea of these various classes having effective spells, remember that the Egyptian priests from Exodus were able to duplicate some of the miracles performed through Moses. This suggests that while there is some cross-over, there are powers that should belong to Christians (or Pseudo-Christians) alone.

The easiest is the aforementioned Turning. Thus, the original cleric class gets to be what it originally was: Christian or Pseudo-Christian. It also gives homage to Holmes who stated:
All vampires, regardless of religious background, are affected by the cross which is sovereign against them.
The cool part (at least for those of us who play older rulesets) is that since ACKS is based upon B/X, any class created with ACKS Players Companion can be easily ported to any other older ruleset with little to no conversion.

Thus, one can maintain the S&S pulp feel that inspired D&D with all of its mysterious cults, magic and (to pay homage to St. Justin) δαίμων worship, while still leaving room for a Christian (or anyone else who wants to come along) to hunt down and defeat all those demons and devils.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saintly Saturday: The Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist

Today the Orthodox Church celebrates the Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist (the first two findings are celebrated on February 24). The relic had been in Emesa (in modern day Syria), but was moved to Komana (in modern day Turkey) during Saracen raids in the early 9th century. It was subsequently hidden and buried during the second wave of iconoclasm.

When the icons were restored to the Churches, Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople (A.D. 847-857) received a vision which told him where the head of St. John was hidden. He communicated this to the Emperor, who sent an expedition to bring the relic to Constantinople. The head was found today in A.D. 850.

One meme that keeps popping up in this corner of the internet is the complaint that the ubiquitous Sword +1 is boring and that magic items should inspire more awe and wonder. I myself have played with systems to try to alleviate this particular issue by imagining the process by which a sword is made. The story of St. John’s Head, however, suggests that giving even a boring old Sword +1 a simple history can transform it from a mere mechanic into a real magical treasure.

What follows is a series of d6 rolls which will provide an outline for the provenance of a magic sword:
Roll a d6. The result will be the number of previous owners. For each owner, roll on these two tables:

Who was the owner?

  1. Thief
  2. Fighter
  3. Knight
  4. Noble
  5. Demi-human (1-3 = Elf; 4-5 = Dwarf; 6 = Halfling)
  6. King

How was it lost?

  1. Stolen
  2. Lost in a game of chance
  3. Owner died in battle*
  4. Owner killed while adventuring*
  5. Owner killed by a magical beast (like a dragon)*
  6. Owner mysteriously disappeared

*On a 1-2 the sword was buried with the owner on a 3-6 it was taken by those who killed the owner, or the sword's fate can be determined by fiat.

As an option, one can also roll on the following table:

How did the next owner receive the sword?

  1. Stole it
  2. Won in a game of chance
  3. Awarded for services rendered
  4. Found it in a lair
  5. Found it in a tomb
  6. Found it in a dungeon

Once each owner is determined, all one has to to do is decide what order they owned the sword and fill in any details that are desired.
For example:

I rolled a ‘3’ to determine how many owners a Sword +1 has had. I rolled on all three tables and here are the results:

  • 3-2-5 Knight died in battle. The sword was buried with him and was in his tomb when found
  • 4-1-4 Noble died adventuring (sword was taken) and was found in a monster’s lair
  • 6-4-3 King had it stolen and was found in a dungeon.

Looking at this, I can fill out the details: A king had the magical sword forged, but before he was able to wield it in battle, the sword was smuggled away into a dungeon. A descendent of the king (2nd son?) went searching for the weapon and found it in the dungeon; however, he was killed on the journey home. A knight seeking fame and glory hunted down a beast in the wilderness, in the lair he discovered the sword. He went on to become famous, but died in a battle defending the realm. His sword was buried with him.

Obviously, further details can be added (such as the names of each owner and what lands they ruled and defended). Should this Sword +1 be found in a treasure hoard other than a tomb, one need only add one more layer to the story: monsters looted the tomb and, depending upon which monsters guard the hoard, either don’t know its value, don’t use swords or use it to defend the rest of the treasure.

Regardless, this lowly Sword +1 is no longer boring. It has a story. It was forged for a king. Men died trying to get it back. It took part in a great battle to try and save the realm. It is an item worthy of wonder, despite the fact in it is “only” a Sword +1.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meditating on Golems and Superheroes

I got to see Ironman 3 last night and given Tony Stark’s use of all the various versions of the Ironman suits with a kind of remote control as well as the trailer for the new Superman movie (which preceded this latest Ironman movie) got me thinking about golems.

Anyone who has played D&D is familiar with the concept of the golem — a figure made out of various materials and brought to life as an automaton. One of the original source materials for the concept is Jewish in origin. There are a variety of stories that involve man trying to duplicate God’s creation of humanity. An anthropomorphic earthen vessel is created and given life; however, the end-result is always imperfect and often dangerous. Thus, the core of the legend is a cautionary tale about hubris.

The most famous golem-tale is that of the Golem of Prague. The 16th century rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel is supposed to have built a golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river in order to protect the Jews of the Prague ghetto from the pogroms of Rudolf II. In the classic tale, the golem was eventually destroyed by the rabbi when he forgot to let it rest on the Sabbath; however, there are versions where it becomes a monster that goes on a murderous rampage.

In this sense, Superman can be seen as a type of golem — at least as a concept in the context of his creation. The father of Jerry Siegel, one of the creators of Superman, died during a robbery attempt of his Cleveland, OH clothing store in 1932. In addition, the creative irony of the use of Nietzsche’s Übermensch by the Nazi party when compared to Superman, who was portrayed by the Jewish Siegel and Schuster as an alien defender of the downtrodden, poor and defenseless, cannot be ignored (image from here):

However, something interesting happened with the golem Superman — despite his superior abilities and alien physiology and origin, he deeply identified with humanity. His upbringing as Clark Kent formed the foundation upon which he became a hero rather than a monster.

Indeed, I have often argued that the superhero of the Superman stories isn’t the Superman persona, but, rather, Clark Kent — precisely because he strives so hard to be a human being. I also believe that it is one of the keys to his long-term success as a literary character and one of the reasons that, despite my preference for normal human comic book characters like Batman and Green Arrow, Superman is one of my favorite superheroes. I can’t help but respect him, not because he is so irritatingly powerful, but because he tries so hard to be human despite all that power.

In a way, all superheroes are golems and the best ones are those who struggle with their own humanity (or, as Superman, to be human). One of the reasons that I collected DC rather than Marvel at the height of the popularity of the X-Men and Wolverine during the 1980s & 90s was due to the glorified golem qualities of Marvel’s Mutant Universe.

As is often acknowledged, the mutant story lines serve as a commentary on whatever shade of bigotry one wants to explore; however, other than the Us vs. Them bigotry, the concept of Homo sapiens superior is rarely, if ever, compared to what it means to be human. As a result, the debate is often stuck at: Should we make war against humanity or Should we be magnanimous and protect humanity? It always bothered me that both cases infer the inherent inferiority of humanity. The question of what it meant to be human never became a foundational principle like it did for the Superman character.

Therefore, all of Marvel’s mutants all end up being merely golems.

As with the original stories about golems, the concept is most powerful when it is an expression of hubris and its destructive consequences. Ironically, there are a plethora of monsters in D&D that are better at being golems than golems on this score. My two favorites are orcs (especially if understood in Tolkienesque terms as the result of twisted experiments on elves) and owlbears (which are described as the result of a twisted experiment by a magic-user).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Green Monk and Green Sword Classes for ACKS

I find myself in an interesting situation with the ACKS custom class system. I am struggling to find a way to differentiate the Blue Mage (see the comments) from what I came up with for the White Mage in ACKS; however, ACKS gives me I the means to actually bring to life some flavor text about the Green Monks that I posted almost two years ago — something that I have never really been able to flesh out otherwise.

Thus, until such time that I find inspiration for doing something for the Blue Mage, I give you the Green Monk and the Green Sword:

The Green Monk and Green Sword Classes for ACKS

Prime Requisite: STR and WIS
Requirements: Must be Lawful
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14
Green Monks are an eremitic monastic order who primarily live in the wilderness as hermits. They are known for their green robes, which are dyed with the same plants that they use to make green elixirs, for which they are well known. They shave their heads and take various vows of silence.

Green Swords are the military arm of the order. These soldiers are famous for their unarmed fighting techniques.

A player must choose at character creation whether or not their character is a Green Monk or a Green Sword. This choice cannot be changed.

Both classes fight and save as Fighters, can wear Leather armor or lighter and use any swords, daggers, spears, pole arms and all missile weapons. They can fight with either weapon and shield or two-handed fighting styles. Both build Sanctums using the Castle rules for a stronghold at 9th level.

Both Green Monks and Green Swords have the following Custom Powers:
  • Attunement to Nature: Since they spend most of their life living alone in the wilderness, Green Monks and Green Swords have a +1 to surprise rolls when in the wilderness.
  • Nose for Potions: Both Green Monks and Green Swords can make a proficiency throw of 11+ to determine the magical properties of potions or oils. At 5th level, they master the skill of brewing potions (all with their trade-mark green hue) as if a mage of their class level.
  • Combat Awareness: Both Green Monks and Green Swords gain a +1 bonus to AC if wearing leather armor or less and able to move freely. This bonus increases to +2 at 7th level and +3 at 13th. This power stacks with Swashbuckling. [This is the same as the Blade Dancing custom power].
Green Monks can cast Divine Spells as a Cleric of half their level. Though they cannot Turn Undead they do have the following additional Custom Powers:
  • Lay on Hands: At 2nd level, the Green Monk can restore 2 hit points per experience level once per day by laying on hands. Proficiency slots can be used to gain additional uses of this power per day.
  • Longevity: At 12th level, the Green Monk learns to completely rely upon God for sustenance. They have a lifespan 3 times longer than normal and become immune to ghoul paralysis.
Green Swords have the following additional Custom Power:
  • Unarmed Fighting Routine: Green Swords are trained to fight unarmed. In melee combat they may attack with this routine, attacking three times for 1d3-1/1d3-1/1d6-1 damage. [This is the same as the Fangs and Claws custom power].
Proficiency List: Alchemy, Alertness, Beast Friendship, Blind Fighting, Combat Reflexes, Combat Trickery (force back, incapacitate, overrun, sunder), Command, Diplomacy, Divine Blessing, Endurance, Fighting Style, Healing, Illusion Resistance, Knowledge (history), Laying on Hands, Leadership, Manual of Arms, Martial Training, Military Strategy, Mystic Aura, Naturalism, Riding, Running, Theology, Weapon Focus

XP Progression looks like this [Green Swords are in brackets]:
  • Level 2: 2,350 [2,300]
  • Level 3: 4,700 [4,600]
  • Level 4: 9,400 [9,200]
  • Level 5: 18,800 [18,400]
  • Level 6: 37,600 [36,800]
  • Level 7: 75,200 [73,600]
  • Level 8: 150,400 [147,200]
  • Level 9: 270,400 [267,200]
  • Level 10: 390,400 [387,200]
  • Level 11: 510,400 [507,200]
  • Level 12: 630,400 [627,200]
  • Level 13: 750,400 [747,200]
  • Level 14: 870,400 [867,200]

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Brown Mage Class for ACKS

The next type of Tolkienesque Mages from my Averoigne campaign that I am going to convert to ACKS is the Brown Mage. Originally, these were supposed to be the mages free to operate outside the Guild and who could add some of the Druid spells to their repertoire. I have therefore tried to give the Brown Mage nature/animal friendly-type Custom Powers:

The Brown Mage for ACKS

Prime Requisite: INT
Requirements: Must be Lawful or Neutral
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: 14
Brown Mages are arcane spell casters who study the way in which the patterns of nature parallel those in the arcane. Some see this as God speaking through nature, others simply see it as an intellectual curiosity. Many are allowed operate outside the Mage Guild because their studies normally are benign. In addition, this path of study tends to garner less arcane power than that of the normal (Grey) Mage.

Brown Mages gain and cast spells like normal Mages, however, at 2/3 of their character level (with anything .5 or higher rounded up). Thus, they don’t get to do Magic Research (minor) until 7th level and major Magical Research until 13th level. In addition, they only have one fighting style — two weapons.

They do, however, have the following Custom Powers:

  • Find the Patterns of Nature At 2nd level, the Brown Mage may study the minutia of an aspect of nature (such as the pattern of veins on a leaf) for 1 hour (6 turns) to regain one spell that they have already cast. A Brown Mage may not regain the same level of spell more than once per day through contemplation. [This is the same as the Contemplation proficiency]
  • Speak with Animals At 3rd level the Brown Mage may Speak with Animals as per the spell at will.
  • Friend of Birds and Beasts At 4th level a Brown Mage has become well-versed in the natural world and can identify plants and fauna with a proficiency throw of 11+. In addition, the Brown Mage understands the subtle body language and moods of birds and beasts and therefore gains +2 to all reaction rolls when encountering normal animals, and can take animals as henchmen.
  • Muster Animal Help At 5th level, a Brown Mage can use the Summon Animal spell as a spell-like ability once per day.
  • Rally Fantastic Beast At 8th level, a Brown Mage can use the Summon Fantastic Beast spell as a spell-like ability once per day.
  • Summon Elemental 11th level, a Brown Mage can use the Conjure Elemental spell as a spell-like ability once per day.

Brown Mages fight and save as Mages and build a Conservatory using the Hideout rules at 9th level.

Brown Mage Proficiency List: Alchemy, Animal Husbandry, Animal Training, Battle Magic, Collegiate Wizardry, Craft, Diplomacy, Elementalism, Elven Bloodline, Engineering, Familiar, Healing, Illusion Resistance, Knowledge, Language, Loremastery, Magical Engineering, Mapping, Mystic Aura, Naturalism, Quiet Magic, Passing Without Trace, Performance, Prestidigitation, Profession, Sensing Power, Tracking, Unflappable Casting

XP Progression looks like this:
  • Level 2: 2,075
  • Level 3: 4,150
  • Level 4: 8,300
  • Level 5: 16,600
  • Level 6: 33,200
  • Level 7: 65,000
  • Level 8: 130,000
  • Level 9: 280,000
  • Level 10: 430,00
  • Level 11: 580,000
  • Level 12: 730,000
  • Level 13: 880,000
  • Level 14: 1,030,000

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saintly Saturday: St. David the Martyr of Georgia

Today is the feast of St. David the Martyr of Georgia, who was born to a noble Christian family. His father died when he was still young and his uncle, a pagan, seized all of the family’s possessions. The true heir, however, was St. David. Fearing this claim, the uncle first tried to win over his sister Tagine, David’s mother. This proved to be futile. Therefore, he tried to convince David and his brother Tarichan that he was now their father and that his was a better way than Christianity. Both refused, boldly declaring that were willing to endure anything for their Lord and their true Father in Heaven.

St. David’s uncle feared reprisals from the Christians, therefore he did not immediately kill his nephews. Rather, he plotted their murder in secret. Tagine, sensing danger, smuggled herself and her sons to lands in the south. There, they lived in hiding as shepherds for many years.

Spies, however, eventually discovered their whereabouts and St. David’s uncle ambushed them in the mountains. Rather than defend himself, St. David ran to his uncle to embrace him in love. His uncle ran him through with a sword and was immediately struck blind. The staff held by St. David was transformed into a tree. Soldiers also chased down and killed St. David’s brother.

When their mother discovered that her sons were murdered, she at first was filled with sorrow and denounced her brother; however, he repented. Taking soil soaked in St. David’s blood, she covered her brother’s eyes and his sight returned.

He went on to repent before the bishop, got baptized and built a church in honor of his nephew.


This is a great story, which suggests two periods within a campaign world:

  1. The period where spies search the land for St. David
  2. The period where the story of David’s martyrdom and church built in his honor are freshly known.

I realize I mention it a lot, but this story marries very well with T1:The Village of Hommlet and would make one of my favorite modules even better.

In the first case, Lareth the Beautiful could be the leader of a cell of spies in search of the nephews of a noble of the Old Faith. Rather than leading the characters to the Temple of Elemental Evil, it could lead characters into the political intrigue between the followers of St. Cuthbert’s God (Christ) and those who still hold to the Old Faith (paganism).

In the second, one could replace the Church of St. Cuthbert with the church built by the uncle in honor of the nephew he martyred. Thus, both the local Christian Church and the Old Faith would have a very rich local history. In addition, the tree that miraculously appeared could be a place of both pilgrimage and a place of safety for PCs on wilderness adventures (no wandering monster checks and double the hit points regained with rest).

Friday, May 17, 2013

White Mage Class for ACKS

The next classes I will tackle for my conversion of Averoigne to ACKS are some of the alternate magic-users suggested by Tolkien’s rainbow of wizards (white, grey, brown and blue). You can see my original post on the subject here. I will begin with the color white.

This is the first major conceptual bump on my journey to converting Averoigne to ACKS. It is possible to interpret Holmes so that only magic-users can use cleric scrolls. This, in turn, suggests that the cleric spells can be both divine and arcane. I took full advantage of this with my Tolkien homage.

ACKS, however, makes a much clearer distinction between the two types of magic. Indeed, should a custom class wish to cast magic from the other spell list, the proficiency that accomplishes this (4 spells at a time) is called Apostasy and the custom power is called Forbidden Spells.

If I were to follow this internal logic, it is possible to create a mage class that can expand their spell list by 12-16 spells, but can cast fewer spells than a normal mage and gains the ability to do magical research later than a normal mage. Personally, I don’t think the trade-off is worth it.

Alternatively, I can provide a number of interesting powers, including 4-8 spells from the cleric spell list. Among these is the ability to Turn undead as a cleric half the current level of the character. Again, however, this class would cast fewer spells than a normal mage and wouldn’t get to do magical research until higher levels. I am much more intrigued by this possibility than the first; however, I still don’t know if it is worth it.

Finally, it is possible to have the mage be able to Turn undead (which could be traded in for 1 or 2 custom powers) and cast cleric spells at half the character’s current level. This would allow not only for a wider spell selection, but the ability to cast more spells and do magical research in the same way a normal mage would.

From a mechanical point of view, this last option is the most optimal and the one that most closely emulates my original Holmesian class. From a conceptual point of view, however, the water is rather muddy. The divine spells are actually divine in nature, not arcane. The spell lists and spell progressions are two different entities. This does not accomplish what I set out to do.

There is one caveat, here, and therefore hope. If I take the ACKS credo every campaign is a law unto itself at its word, I can ignore the differentiation, marry the two spell lists and spell progressions together and call it good. I just wish that the rules themselves weren’t so clear about the differentiation so that my hand-waving it away didn’t feel like I was making such a big exception. Indeed, in the description below, I can’t bring myself to completely hand wave it away:

The White Mage Class for ACKS

Prime Requisite: INT
Requirements: Must be Lawful and a member of both the Church and the Mage’s Guild
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: 14
White Mages are men and women of faith who wish to use arcane magics in concert with their faith and the Church, sometimes even within the Church structure. Like normal mages (aka Grey Mages), White Mages begin the game with a repertoire of arcane spells modified by their INT; however, once they have proven themselves faithful to both the Church and the Mage’s Guild, the White Mage gains access to a second repertoire of spells.

At 3rd level, the character receives a second spell book filled with spells that duplicate the effects of various divine spells. These are prepared in the same way as normal arcane spells; however, due to the different way in which White Mages study magic, their spell progression and spell choice differ from normal mage progression:

What follows is a list of numbers representing the numbers of spells a White Mage can prepare each day per level. The numbers outside of brackets represent the amount of normal arcane spells that can be prepared. Numbers inside brackets represent the amount of divine-like arcane spells that can be prepared. The numbers are read left to right in terms of spell level with the furthest left being first level.

  1. 1
  2. 1
  3. 2[1]
  4. 2[1] 1
  5. 2[2] 2
  6. 2[2] 2
  7. 2[2] 2[1] 1
  8. 2[2] 2[1] 1
  9. 2[2] 2[2] 2
  10. 3[2] 2[2] 2 1
  11. 3[2] 2[2] 2[1] 1[1]
  12. 3[2] 3[2] 2[1] 2[1]
  13. 3[2] 3[2] 3[2] 2[1] 1[1]
  14. 3[2] 3[2] 3[2] 2[1] 1[1]

As do normal (Grey) Mages, at 5th level White Mages can begin doing arcane research, scribe scrolls and brew potions. At 9th level they can create greater magical items. In addition, they have the following Custom Powers:

  • Aura of Protection: Due to their chosen path of faith coupled with the arcane, beginning at 2nd level, White Mages have a +1 bonus to AC and saving throws against chaotic (evil) creatures and effects. This appears as a golden aura when viewed with Detect Good, Detect Magic or Trueseeing.
  • Divine Aura: At 12th level, the White Mage begins to project an aura of light that awes, bedazzles and persuades. The White Mage receives a +2 bonus to reaction rolls to people encountered. If this total is 12 or more, the subject acts as if charmed while in the presence of the White Mage. [This is the same as the Glamourous Aura custom power.]

White Mage Proficiency List: Alchemy, Battle Magic, Beast Friendship, Collegiate Wizardry, Craft, Diplomacy, Divine Blessing, Divine Health, Elementalism, Elven Bloodline, Engineering, Familiar, Healing, Illusion Resistance, Knowledge, Language, Loremastery, Magical Engineering, Mapping, Naturalism, Quiet Magic, Performance, Prestidigitation, Profession, Prophecy, Sensing Power, Theology, Unflappable Casting

White Mages fight and save as Mages and use the Sanctum rules to build a Stronghold at 9th level.

XP progression looks like this:

  • Level 2: 2,125
  • Level 3: 4,250
  • Level 4: 8,500
  • Level 5: 17,000
  • Level 6: 34,000
  • Level 7: 68,000
  • Level 8: 136,000
  • Level 9: 272,000
  • Level 10: 422,000
  • Level 11: 572,000
  • Level 12: 722,000
  • Level 13: 872,000
  • Level 14: 1,022,000

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Salian Scion Class for ACKS

The next class to tackle in my conversion process to ACKS for my Averoigne campaign is my Holmesian Paladin. This class really came about as an opportunity to offer an HTH-only fighter type in the way the Holmesian Ranger is missile/thrown-only. I also took advantage of the DEX-based initiative system of Holmes by allowing the Holmesian Paladin to trade places with people on the initiative order.

Since initiative is dynamic in ACKS and a mere +1 to an individual’s initiative is considered a custom power, I am not going to try and go the initiative route. Rather, I am going to play up the original meaning of paladin which refers to a trusted military leader or imperial officer.

Since I have heavily used the history of the Merovingian Kings as a source of inspiration, I thought it apropos to allow the Salians to have a flavored version of the fighter type in the same way that I made my ACKS ranger Averni for flavor purposes. Thus, I will use the name Salian Scion to describe this conversion of the Holmesian Paladin:

The Salian Scion Class for ACKS

Prime Requisite: STR and CHA
Requirements: Must be Salian or have an approved backstory for a non-Salian
Hit Dice: 1d8
Maximum Level: 14
Although the Salians are recent interlopers in Averoigne, theirs is a Kingdom that has lasted nearly a thousand years. Thus, the noble families of the Salians are both well-established and steeped in tradition. There is also a need for those who are not first born to go out on their own and make a name for themselves, since they are not to inherent the family title or lands. Salian Scions represent these title-less noble born who seek to carve out lands of their own.

Salian Scions may wear any type of armor but their sense of honor and military tradition frowns upon any weapons other than swords, daggers, morning stars, maces, or lances. Likewise, they eschew one fighting style according to their Family Military Tradition (see below). When the player chooses a weapon, the primary way that weapon is used will determine the fighting style the character will not have available:

  • If the weapon uses the two weapon fighting style than no two handed fighting style.
  • If the weapon uses the two handed fighting style than no weapon and shield fighting style.
  • If the weapon uses the weapon and shield fighting style than no two weapon fighting style.

In addition, Salian Scions have the following Custom Powers:

  • Blood of Kings: Due to their noble lineage, Salian Scions are allowed to take one more henchmen than their CHA allows and all henchmen have their morale raised by 1.
  • Family Military Tradition: Salian families are closely associated with certain weapons. For example, those who are descended from the Merovingians are known for their prowess with the Two-Handed Sword. A Salian Scion is trained starting at birth using this family weapon. Therefore, the player may select one weapon as a family weapon at character creation which cannot be changed later. The Salian Scion receives a +1 to attack rolls with this weapon. In addition, readying or sheathing this weapon counts as a free action.
  • Inspire Courage: At 2nd level, Salian Scions have perfected the art of improving morale of troops. Prior to battle, the Salian Scion may spend one round encouraging those around the character (50’ r.) and these allies gain a +1 to attack throws, damage rolls, morale rolls and saving throws against fear. This bonus lasts 1 turn. This can be done to any given character once per day per class level. This does not work on characters already engaged in combat.
  • Command of Voice: At 4th level, Salian Scions have earned enough of a reputation that their very words hold power. They receive a +2 bonus to reaction rolls to creatures spoken to. If the result is 12 or more, the subject acts as if charmed. Creatures with a higher WIS than the character’s CHA are immune.
  • Heroic Resilience: At 9th level, the Salian Scion has established himself as a hero and a leader. As a result, when the character is required to consult the Mortal Wounds table, the player may roll twice and choose the preferred results. The character may also subtract class level from the number of days of bed rest required to recover. [This is the same as the Savage Resilience custom power.]

Salian Scions fight and save as fighters, have the same proficiencies as fighters and use the Castle rules to build a Stronghold at 9th level.

XP progression looks like this:

  • Level 2: 2,600
  • Level 3: 5,200
  • Level 4: 10,400
  • Level 5: 20,800
  • Level 6: 41,600
  • Level 7: 83,200
  • Level 8: 164,400
  • Level 9: 328,800
  • Level 10: 448,800
  • Level 11: 568,800
  • Level 12: 688,800
  • Level 13: 808,800
  • Level 14: 928,800

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Note to Tavis, Andrew & Dan and about ACKS Players Companion

I would just like to take a moment to thank both Tavis and Andrew for dropping by and commenting on some of my meditations on ACKS, especially Andrew’s suggestions for improving my Burglar Class. This is what I love about this little corner of the internet and what I love about the philosophy about many of the publishers who target the OSR community — they actively support and encourage folks to actually use their products in ways that the end-user wants to. To that end, I should mention that Dan of Goblinoid Games has also dropped by and endorsed my use of S&S 2e to fiddle with the LL Thief, which is really cool.

I’d also like to mention that having fiddled now with the Custom Classes section of the ACKS Players Companion, that this is probably one of the best things that has come out of the OSR. As I have mentioned before, ACKS is a great system if you want a character build opportunity with your B/X. Not being one of those guys, ACKS would not be my personal first choice of rulesets. That being said, however, the Custom Class section is easily portable to B/X or LL and allows players to add all kinds of flavor-filled classes to their campaign worlds to make them come alive. It also scratches that character build itch quite excellently. Therefore, I highly recommend getting yourself a copy, even if ACKS doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saintly Saturday: The Consecration of Constantinople

Today the Orthodox Church commemorates the consecration of the city of Constantinople, which gives me a chance to do things a little differently this Saturday. Normally, I would go through the story of a saint’s life and pull something interesting or inspiring to apply to RPGs. This (hopefully) demonstrates how useful it is to plum the history of Christianity and how truly rich that history is.

Today, I am going start with an RPG concept and see how the story of Constantinople fits that concept. When designing an RPG environment, especially those that PCs are going to explore — the dungeon, the wilderness or a urban area — it is useful to have multiple layers of history to that area. These multiple layers give the DM/GM/Ref/Judge/LL/etc. a rich tapestry from which to improvise information about a specific area.

If I know that a particular area now occupied by orcs was once used as a temple by elves and before that was a nursery for metallic dragons, I can give a variety of interesting details that clue the PCs into the history of what this place once was:

  • Skulls of various humanoids for orcs.
  • Leaf designs and the image of a great tree (protected by a dragon?) on the stone work (possibly de-faced by orcs) for the elves.
  • A strange pattern of circles in bas relief in the floor for the dragons.

Knowing these two larger details (the elven temple and dragon nursery) lead to a far more interesting and cohesive set of smaller details, which can then spin off into adventure hooks or interesting NPCs interactions (say an elf or a dragon looking for evidence that these places still exist).

The city of Constantinople is an historical example of how to add these layers and how these layers affect what comes later:

  • Byzantium was a Greek colony founded in 657 B.C. and named after a king of great renown by the name of Byzas.
  • St. Andrew the Apostle preached in Byzantium in the first century A.D., setting up a Christian community and ordaining St. Stachys of the Seventy as bishop.
  • The city sided with Pescennius Niger, an usurper to the Roman thrown. The city was besieged by roman forces and heavily damaged in A.D. 196.
  • St. Constantine, the first Christian emperor, chose to make the city the new capital of the Christian Roman Empire, renaming it Constantinople. It was consecrated today in A.D. 330.
  • Despite many attempts, the city stood firm and ruled over the Roman Empire for 1000 years.
  • It was finally conquered by the Ottomans in A.D. 1453.
  • The city was renamed Istanbul (which is really a mutation of a Greek phrase meaning to the City).
  • Churches were subsequently taken over and turned into mosques or torn down (Hagia Sophia, for example — shown above in an image from Wikimedia Commons).
  • The term Byzantine Empire was coined by a Frenchmen in the 16th century.
  • Today, the Patriarch of Constantinople still has the title Ecumenical Patriarch due to its historic association with the capital of the Roman Empire and he traces his Apostolic Succession to St. Andrew.

Thus, in a Mutant Future campaign where modern Istanbul lays in ruins and is crawling with irradiated monsters, there is a rich tapestry of historical clues one can give PCs along with a great hook for adventures: the remnant Christian church is hoping to find relics from when the city was still occupied by humans.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Averni Ranger Class for ACKS

The second class that I am attempting to convert to ACKS for my Averoigne campaign is the Holmesian Ranger. Although, the impetus for the original was my own interpretation of the missile combat rules in Holmes (which implied random targets), ACKS still has one hold-over from the Holmes rules. No one can fire into melee without a special proficiency. Therefore, that is where I began constructing what I call the Averni Ranger (thus named to add a bit of color and to differentiate it from the plethora of other rangers that exist):

The Averni Ranger for ACKS

Prime Requisite: STR and DEX
Requirements: Must be Averni or have an approved backstory for a non-Averni
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14
Averoigne has large swaths of land that are wilderness creeping into the lands of civilization. Therefore, there is a long warrior tradition within Averni culture that learns the ways of the wilderness in order to protect civilization from the wilderness.

Averni Rangers may wear chain-type armor or lighter, use all missile weapons and one-handed weapons and have the fighting styles weapon and shield as well as two weapons. They also have three Thieving Skills: Hide in Shadow, Move Silently and Backstab. HS and MS require leather or lighter armor to use.

In addition they have the following Custom Powers:

  • Accuracy: Averni Rangers are trained marksmen. That are at a +1 to attack rolls with all missile weapons.
  • Precise Shot: as trained marksmen, Averni Rangers can fire into melee at a -4 to the roll. This stacks with the Proficiency Precise Shooting to reduce the penalty to hit.
  • Sniper: if an Averni Ranger can attack from ambush or is eligible to use backstab, they can do so using a ranged weapon at up to short range. [This is the Proficiency Sniping used as a Custom Power].

Averni Rangers fight and save as Fighters and use the Hideout rules to build a Stronghold at 9th level.

Averni Ranger Proficiency List: Alertness, Animal Husbandry, Blind Fighting, Climbing, Combat Trickery (disarm, incapacitate, knock down), Eavesdropping, Endurance, Fighting Style, Land Surveying, Mapping, Mountaineering, Naturalism, Navigation, Passing Without Trace, Precise Shooting, Riding, Running, Skirmishing, Survival, Swashbuckling, Tracking, Trapping, Wakefulness, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus

XP progression looks like this:
  • Level 2: 2,150
  • Level 3: 4,300
  • Level 4: 8,600
  • Level 5: 17,200
  • Level 6: 34,400
  • Level 7: 68,800
  • Level 8: 137,600
  • Level 9: 275,200
  • Level 10: 279,200
  • Level 11: 399,200
  • Level 12: 519,200
  • Level 13: 639,200
  • Level 14: 759,200

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Burglar Class for ACKS

My first step in converting some of my ideas about a Homes/Cook Averoigne campaign to ACKS is the idea that the primary purpose of the Thief is that of door opener. As such, I have re-cast the Thief as Burglar and have replaced the Thieves Guild with the Adventurer’s Guild.

Mechanically and philosophically, it is important for the feel of the game I want to play that PCs will encounter a semi-intelligent and hostile environment whenever they enter a dungeon. One way to emulate this is that all doors are locked. As such, the primary way of opening doors is to muscle through them. If the attempt fails, however, all chance at surprise is gone. Therefore, PCs have two alternative ways of attempting to open a door without giving up that chance of surprise should that attempt fail. One is magical (Knock) and the other is the Burglar.

Enter the ACKS Player Companion. Ostensibly, it is filled with extra classes, races, spells and equipment for use in Autarch’s house campaign world. However, they live by the credo that Every campaign is a law unto itself. Therefore, they provide a section wherein they brake down all of the mechanics that they used to create every class in ACKS (including the core classes) making it possible for Judges (the ACKS version of the DM) and players alike to create custom classes for their own campaigns.

This is, by far, my favorite aspect of ACKS. It is mechanically sound, balanced and backward compatible. The first part of my attempts to convert Averoigne to ACKS will heavily involve these custom class rules. First up is the aforementioned Burglar:

Burglar Class for ACKS

Prime Requisite: DEX
Requirements: None
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14
Burglars are adventurers who specialize in the opening of doors (thus the title burglar). They may wear chain-type armor or lighter and are able to use axes, bows and crossbows. They can use the fighting styles weapon + shield or two-handed weapons.

Burglars have three Thieving skills: Open Locks, Find Traps and Climb Walls.

In addition they have the following Custom Powers:

  • Difficult to Spot: Burglars are very good at seemingly disappearing into shadow, nooks and crannies found within dungeons. If they are quiet and hold still while in cover, they can escape detection on a roll of 3+ on a d20. They can put this skill to use in wilderness conditions as well; however, the roll required is 14+ on a d20. [Note: the original Custom Power reverses these two rolls for Explorers and Elven Rangers]
  • Keen Eyes: Burglars can detect hidden and secret doors with a roll of 8+ on a d20 if they are actively searching and a 14+ on a d20 if only casually inspecting.
  • Loremastery: The burglar can decipher runes, remember ancient history, identify artifacts, etc. with a roll of 18+. This improves by 1 per level of experience.

Burglars fight and save as Thieves and can build an Adventurer’s Guild at 9th level (same rules as a Hideout). They also have the same Proficiency list as Thieves with the exception of Skulking and Sniping which are replaced with Blind Fighting and Eavesdropping. XP progression looks like this:

  • Level 2: 1,400
  • Level 3: 2,800
  • Level 4: 5,600
  • Level 5: 11,200
  • Level 6: 22,400
  • Level 7: 44,800
  • Level 8: 89,600
  • Level 9: 179,200
  • Level 10:279,200
  • Level 11: 379,200
  • Level 12: 479,200
  • Level 13: 579,200
  • Level 14: 679,200
Please Note: I deliberately chose not to give the Burglar the ability to Remove Traps specifically because I do not like having the process of disarming traps reduced to a die roll. I much prefer coming up with the traps and seeing how players figure ways to overcome them. I also chose axes over sword/dagger for allowable weapons because an axe can also be used to open a door. Additionally, in Averoigne swords are something primarily reserved for fighters.


This was the first big test for the Custom Class system of ACKS: could it emulate what I was looking for in the Bilbo Baggins inspired thief/burglar archetype? I think it has done so better than my own earlier attempts at  making the Thief class something that I would not only allow in my games, but would actually like to play.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Meditating on ACKS and Averoigne

One who has read this blog over the years may have noticed that I haven’t posted a Lost Colonies Session report in a long time. This is not because the campaign has ended, but rather that the sessions are few and far between and nothing has really happened that I was inspired enough to write about. This is due to the fact that I am not inspired enough by the campaign in its current state to do much more and none of the guys I play with have championed more sessions than the few that we have done.

In the meantime, my group has been primarily playing AD&D with a few forays into Pathfinder. At the moment, the guys I play with are enamored by AD&D’s fiddliness — to them it represent more “choice” than other older editions of the game. I could argue that I could accomplish much of the same feel and choices with a much cleaner and simpler ruleset such as S&W or LL + AEC, but I would be missing the point.

One has to understand that the group I play with were virtually all introduced to the game with 3rd edition. As such, character builds are very important to them — it is a part of the gaming experience that they really enjoy. I have meditated on this before. I have, in contrast, scratched that itch with various war games which these guys never had as part of their gaming experience.

Every couple of months, someone at the table suggests that we play Pathfinder for a while (it being the 3ed emulation of choice). We play awhile until everyone remembers why we don’t like playing 3ed/Pathfinder. I don’t mind terribly much because I have learned to enjoy the game at lower levels and I know we will sooner rather than later go back to an older ruleset or its emulation.

What this all means, in the long run, is that I am not ever going to be able to run an Averoigne campaign with the guys I play with the way I want to — with a Holmes/Cook mash-up using either LL or S&W as a jumping off point. While it is incredibly interesting to me and something I would really like to play-test one day, it isn’t something that is going to interest my group. Thus, I am having to re-think about my approach so that I can start play-testing Averoigne and the Chateau des Faussesflammes as concepts.

Enter, of all things, Dwimmermount. My faith in that project and my patience have born fruit. One of the things that has come out of all the complications of the project is the generosity of the guys at Autarch. Via a promise made to backers, I have gotten my hands on .pdfs of ACKS and the ACKS Player Companion and done some serious reading and fiddling.

I have to say that both are excellent products, if lacking in a few tables & examples here and there which would have made my understanding and use of the products easier. I really like the fact that at its root, ACKS is B/X. I also really appreciate their interpretation of its mechanics extrapolated into the concept of proficiencies/feats, world building and the end-game.

In the end, however, I find it too fiddly. I prefer a far more organic/random interaction with world creation than these rules imply and I have never much cared for proficiencies, especially when they really emulate skills and feats that imply more roll playing than role playing. There are aspects that I think will prove very useful in the long run, but won’t really know until I actually use them at the table.

This is where I insert the however of this blog post. Even though I don’t care for the fiddliness of ACKS, I do think the guys who I play with will. It scratches the character build itch in a way that AD&D can’t but without all the stuff we don’t like about Pathfinder (I hope). For my own taste, I prefer the fiddliness of ACKS over the fiddliness of AD&D because it represents true player choice and is mechanically cleaner (and did I mention that it is basically B/X — my favorite edition of the game — with a bunch of stuff added on?).

Thus, the best chance I have of playing in my version of Averoigne with the guys I play with may very well be ACKS. As such, in the coming days I will be converting some of the work I have done on Averoigne to the ACKS system to see if what emerges is something I am still interested in playing.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Christ is Risen!

It is the day of the Resurrection! Let us shine brightly for the festival, and also embrace one another. Brethren, let us say even to those who hate us, "Let us forgive everything for the Resurrection." And thus let us cry aloud, "Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life!" — Doxastikon of Pascha

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saintly Saturday: Holy Saturday

Today is Holy Saturday according to the Orthodox Calendar. We Orthodox Christians do a funny thing this week. We are so eager to celebrate Pascha (aka Easter) that we turn the clock ahead 12 hours this week. All the morning services happen the night before and all the evening services happen in the morning. Thus, we actually celebrate the Vesperal Liturgy of the Resurrection this morning and will celebrate the morning Divine Liturgy tonight at midnight.

As a result, this hymn was sung this morning:
Today, Hades groans and cries out, "My authority has been destroyed. I took One who died, as though He were mortal, but I am powerless to contain Him. Along with Him I lose all those, over whom I had ruled. I had held the dead from all ages, but behold, He raises them all." Glory to Your Cross and Your Resurrection, O Lord!
I have meditated before on the idea that Christ turns the classic hero story on its head. Normally, the hero descends into the Mythic Underground in order to gain something lost or something that they need in order to defeat whatever nemesis they happen to need to get rid of. As can be seen by this hymn, Christ goes into Hades (aka Sheol aka the Mythic Underground) to conquer it.

Thus, the classic trope of the megadungeon that is always restocking itself, morphing and reacting to the PCs as they delve deeper into its bowels also gets turned on its ear. It occurred to me that a previous post might give an interesting answer as to how to reconcile the Christ-as-hero story with the classic D&D megadungeon.

Awhile ago, I blogged about something I called The Gnomic Highway, which I equated to the idea of a kind of faerie road that could shorten the distance between two given points, but which would also be far more dangerous than a normal road. Subsequently, I came across the idea of the gnomic will which suggests a deliberate choice away from a path that results in the fulfillment of one’s being.

Thus, in a Christian context, it would be possible for PCs to defeat a megadungeon — that once cleared or once a particular goal has been met, that megadungeon ceases to exist in the normal sense; however, one can still find it on the Gnomic Highway — where one can deliberately choose to enter into the Mythic Underground and all its subsequent dangers even though it has ceased to exist as a normal part of the world.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saintly Saturday: Lazarus Saturday and St. Eulogius the Innkeeper

Apologies for the durth of posts around here recently. Life. Apologies also ahead of time for the brevity of this post, but, again: Life (and Holy Week).

Today, being the Saturday before Palm Sunday in the Orthodox calendar, we celebrate the raising of Lazarus. I have written on this topic before, and therefore will kindly point folks to my thoughts from the last two years.

Today is also the feast day of Eulogius the Innkeeper. He lived in the fourth century in Constantinople and would offer hospitality to wanderers. It seems to me that he would make an interesting model for an NPC, especially in a low-level campaign.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saintly Saturday: St. Theodore the Trichinas

Today is the feast of a very popular saint among monastics — St. Theodore the Trichinas. The title Τριχινᾶ refers to his practice of wearing a hair shirt. He grew up in a pious family, chose the monastic life and entered into one of the monasteries in the imperial city of Constantinople. He wore the hair shirt the rest of his life.

For me, the most interesting part of St. Theodore’s story happened several centuries after his death in the late 4th/early 5th century: a liturgical poem called a Canon was composed for St. Theodore by one of the great hymnodists of the Orthodox Church, St. Joseph the Hymnographer.

Continuing with my theme that the monastic life is a good metaphor for D&D if one externalizes the internal struggle that the spiritual warfare of the Christian life holds, here are some interesting excerpts from the Canon for St. Theodore written by St. Joseph:
Cutting down the assaults of passions with a spiritual sword, O righteous Theodore, you raised up trophies of victory against them; wherefore you have been crowned with graces of miracles and healings. — Ode One

With vigorous abstinence you slew the beasts of the flesh, O righteous Father, and made manifest all the powers of the soul. — Ode Three

With temperance, you killed the passions O Theodore and became a divine habitation of the Holy Spirit, by Whom you have gushed forth gifts of healings for all. — Ode Four

You broke the arrows of the foe, O righteous Theodore, using the arms of humility against him; and with the co-working of Christ, you have carried off the victory. — Ode Six

When you stretched out your hands to God, O righteous Father, you muzzled with prayer the noetic beasts that gaped against you; and in joy you did chant with a pure mind: O all you works of the Lord, bless the Lord — Ode Eight
Since this time of year is so very busy, I am not going to have time to do more than pull some of the interesting possibilities that might be externalized for a D&D campaign:

  • The word “passions” has as its root the Greek πάθος which is the root of the English word pathogen and has the connotation of disease.
  • A spiritual sword.
  • Beasts of the Flesh.
  • A divine spell which breaks or deflects arrows or attacks from creatures of evil.
  • Noetic beasts.

I wish I had more time to play with some of these ideas. For those not staring down the end of Lent and Holy Week, maybe some of these will inspire something more than a bullet point.