Friday, May 29, 2015

Five Monarchs Campaign: Character Sheet

After much discussion (two positive votes and a sentiment that it is far more descriptive), Five Monarchs Campaign it is.

If I have one major complaint of RPGs as a whole, it has to be the Character Sheet. Off the top of my head, I really only like two that were supplied by the game itself: the 1e AD&D goldenrod sheets and 1e Champions. Even I wonder if both of these have more to do with nostalgia than functionality or appearance (although the 1e Champions CS was really functional).

It seems that the best Character Sheets are almost always a blank sheet of paper that is slowly built into a character sheet, or those created by folks who have played the game and know how to organize the information necessary for handy use.

This doesn't stop me from wanting or wishing for truly inspired Character Sheets. Even when that blank sheet of paper evolves into a record of a really interesting character and campaign, there is part of me that always wants a character to graduate to an "official" Character Sheet worthy of the character it records.

I mention this because FASERIP is particularly egregious in the category of ugly Character Sheet design and because I plan on playing this campaign with my kids. Part of the attraction and nostalgia I have for those goldenrod and 1e Champions Character Sheets is that they are part of my education on how to play those games and RPGs in general.

Therefore, I am keen on having a cool and informative Character Sheet to give to my kids when we play. I am hoping this fits the bill:

Monday, May 25, 2015

FASERIP: The Five Monarchs

I now have a couple of working titles for this campaign, but neither has really charmed me yet:

  • The Five Monarchs Campaign
  • Chasura City Campaign

Let me know in the comments which one you like better.

So, originally I was going to have the five monarchs based on the five colors of the rainbow (as originally postulated by Isaac Newton) with a mix of Eastern and Western elements to color the special effects of campaign powers. I was reminded, however, by Svafa of wu xing. I quickly realized that this elemental model was a much more useful than the one I had come up with. Not only does each element have more special effects, but there are far more implied relationships between the elements.

What follows is a summary of each Monarch, their organizations, goals, relationships and special effects of the powers their vassals exhibit when using their powers.

Red Monarch

Element: Fire

Sp. Effects: Light, Fire, Radiation

Likes Working With: Wood

Rivals: Water, Metal

Cover: UTU (United Trade Unions)

Goals: The Red Monarch wants to return to normal time and space by any means possible, short of destroying the city or its people. The UTU is a loose confederation of workers with ties to criminal gangs and politicians. They are not afraid to use violence, terror and crime to further their agenda; however, murder is not deemed as an acceptable method of coercion. Murderers are hunted down and turned over to the CCPD. UTU works closely with the CCPD, especially through its political influences because despite wishing to return home, the status quo is better than trying to push Chasura City into some other kind of space or time.

Yellow Monarch

Element: Earth

Sp. Effects: Gravity, Rock, Sand

Likes Working With: Fire

Rivals: Wood, Water

Cover: GeoTech (does much of the construction/infrastructure found in Chasura City)

Goals: The Yellow Monarch is obsessed with researching the space and time in-between in order to find a guaranteed safe way of moving Chasura City back to normal space and time. Going into a different space and time is deemed too dangerous for Chasura City and its people. GeoTech works closely with UTU because of similar goals and as a means of keeping the more dangerous impulses of UTU in check.

Green Monarch

Element: Wood

Sp. Effects: Wind, Sound, Mind

Likes Working With: Water

Rivals: Earth, Metal

Cover: CCPD (Chasura City Police Department)

Goals: The Green Monarch wants to protect the status quo and keep the city safe. It is more dangerous to try to remove Chasura City from its current state in-between time and space than remaining in its current state. The CCPD keeps very close ties with CCE in order to monitor their actives and minimize the effects of their radical efforts. CCPD has used CCE to shut down various experiments by other factions simply by denying them access to CCE’s power utilities.

Blue Monarch

Element: Water

Sp. Effects: Electricity, Fluids, Shadow

Likes Working With: Metal

Rivals: Fire, Earth

Cover: CCE (Chasura City Energy)

Goals: Ever since Chasura City shifted into its current state in-between time and space, the Blue Monarch has discovered a variety of potential power sources unknown in regular time and space. The Blue Monarch believes that these power sources indicate a space-time that has far more to offer humanity than does regular time and space. Using CCE and several secret underwater research facilities, the Blue Monarch wishes to push humanity forward into this new reality by any means possible, short of destroying Chasura City or its people. CCE works closely with AESTech due to their similar goals.

Purple Monarch

Element: Metal

Sp. Effects: Iron, Ice, Ether

Likes Working With: Earth

Rivals: Fire, Wood

Cover: AESTech (produces much of the hi-tech/electronic devices found in Chasura City)

Goals: The Purple Monarch is obsessed with researching the space and time in-between in order to find a guaranteed safe way to move Chasura City into a new space and time, because to go back would be too dangerous for those in normal space and time. AESTech works closely with GeoTech because, despite having different goals, both are dedicated to safe research. The more they know about their current state the safer it will be to move beyond it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Michael the Confessor

Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Confessor who was from Synnada in Phrygia in what is now modern day central Turkey. From a young age he wanted to become a monk, so he travelled to Constantinople. There he met another young man seeking the monastic life who would eventually become St. Theophylact (celebrated on March 8). The two received the blessing by Patriarch Tarasius and entered a monastery on the Black Sea, where both men distinguished themselves.

All of this happened during the era of iconoclasm. Patriarch Tarasius had convened the Seventh Ecumenical Council in defense of icons and was in need of iconodule bishops. Both Michael and Theophylact were persuaded to become such bishops. Michael went back home to become the Bishop of Synnada and Theophylact became the bishop of Nicomedia.

In A.D. 813 Emperor Leo V the Armenian came to power. Seeing recent defeats against both the Bulgars and the Arabs as a sign that the iconodules were wrong, Leo V adopted iconoclastic policies and began to persecute iconodules including both Sts. Michael and Theophylact. Both were exiled. Michael died while in exile about the year A.D. 821.

Given the fact that St. Michael was at a monastery on the Black Sea and his friend St. Theophylact became the bishop of Nicomedia, it seems that it is time for me to expand upon the Sea of Marmara campaign setting. The life of St. Michael seems to suggest a few interesting wrinkles to the immediate history of the campaign.

Leo V the Armenian came to power primarily because he was a good general. Being an iconoclast was as much of a political move as it was a theological one — it placated the iconoclastic Arab Muslims long enough for him to push back and make peace with the Bulgars. Although he seemed to be a good administrator and skilled on the battlefield, he was not as skilled in politics because he was brutally assassinated on Christmas day A.D. 820 by his own generals.

This suggests that the heresy being supported by the Lawful powers that be is a second wave of the heresy and that those powers have been very successful at protecting their territory from outside threats. In past posts, I’ve postulated that Nicomedia and Byzantium are two different political entities. The life and time of St. Michael suggest that one is actually pagan or humanoid. Given its relative isolation to other significant locations on the map, Byzantium seems to fit the pagan/humanoid bill better than Nicomedia. Thus, the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia, although a heretic, is tolerated by the average citizen because he has brought a relative peace and stability to the area.

The persecution of iconodules under Leo V was aimed primarily at monasteries, therefore this fits very nicely into the idea that the Mountain of Skulls was ransacked by the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia, making the evil being guarded there free to wreck havoc. Part of the background noise could very well be a plot to assassinate the ruler by his closest allies to either cover up or in retribution for the mistake of ransacking the monastery.

Finally, since St. Michael’s friend St. Theophylact was deposed as the bishop of Nicomedia by Leo V, it follows that the rebel monks who are fighting against the Lawful ruler of Nicomedia are led by the former bishop of Nicomedia who also happens to be a monk.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Meditating on OSR Innovation

Another bandwagon I am compelled to hop onto is this meme about innovation in the OSR: rules or settings? First, let me get this out of the way: when hasn’t the OSR been innovative? Seriously. I will grant that we can look like a bunch of reactionary grey bearded curmudgeons, but from the get go we have been pushing rules written at various times in the 70s and 80s in all kinds of interesting directions. Why are people looking for the next Tékumel or Blackmoor when there are literally as many astounding worlds as there are bloggers?

For example: part of the “complaint” about innovation is getting beyond 2000 cp in a dusty room…a reference to all the whinging about the Dwimmermount experience. How wasn’t Dwimmermount innovative? I said this before and I will say it again — James Maliszewski pushed us all to deal with, understand and chew on the concept of the megadungeon. Regardless of what you think about how his Kickstarter was handled or whether or not you care for the final product, the whole experience has made the hobby better.

For myself, I was never much influenced by Tékumel or Blackmoor. I hold no special place in my heart for either of these products, nor do I have any real interest in investing much time on either product. The same can be said of most setting products. Those who read this blog know that I have never played a single game in either Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. The guys I play with have always been DIY when it comes to world building.

On the other hand, new systems don’t really float my boat either. Look at me, my favorite system was written back in 1981 and, when push comes to shove, I’d be happy playing nothing but B/X for the rest of my life.

What do I really want in a product? I want to be able to use it at the table. This either means that I can easily plug and play with an adventure or have a product that gives me awesome ideas that are easily applied to my games. This is the best way to be innovative, because there are so many products out there that are not very easy to use. Let me give you a couple or three examples of what I believe are innovative products:

Demonspore by Matt Finch
This is one of the best adventure modules ever produced by the OSR simply because it is designed to be plugged into an existing dungeon. It doesn’t have to be, but it can and I did and it was brilliantly easy to do.

Realms of Crawling Chaos and Starships & Spacemen 2e both by Goblinoid Games
Both of these products are plug and play tool kits for Labyrinth Lord (though S&S 2e can function as a stand-alone game). Frankly, anything in the Labyrinth Lord line is designed to be modular so that if I want to do a Star Trek/Flash Gordon/Horror/Mutant Apocalypse mash-up without house ruling everything, I can. Indeed, I have yet to fully take advantage of all of the modular goodness provided in RCC and S&S 2e.

This whole discussion began with JB of B/X Blackrazor and his problems with the game White Star by James Spahn. Personally, I really appreciated JB’s perspective. I was pining over the game because of the excitement generated around this section of the internet, but my gaming budget is still Free. JB let me realize that I would have had buyers remorse if I’d scraped together the cash to buy it.

Like JB, I worked on my own version of a Flash Gordon-esque version of BX/0e but abounded it because it wasn’t a game I really ever wanted to play. Now, before I get accused to being bitter about Spahn’s success in the same way JB did, I have already shared what fruits came out of that whole experiment.

Way back when, I did a series of posts stripping the 0e spell list of special effects in order to create a system to build new spells based on 0e assumptions. I shared it as Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator. What may not be obvious is that this whole project began as an attempt to create a tool kit for creating Jedi-like powers for a sci-fi version of BX/0e so that my version of a Star Knight (or whatever else you want to call it) wouldn’t have to have Bless or Purify Food and Drink on their spell list.

Speaking for myself, this is not the best thing I’ve ever shared with this community; however, I do believe that it is the closest thing that I have ever produced that demonstrates what I want in terms of the Rules vs. Setting discussion. It is innovative in the way I want my OSR products to be innovative: I can use it at my table to create my vision of a sci-fi campaign or add cool new spells to my 0e-inspired games.

In other words, I don't need publishers to give the new Tékumel or Blackmoor, I want them to give me cool tools to help me make it myself.

I Love Lawful Stupid

I am going to hop on the bandwagon and throw my two cents worth at the alignment question asked over at Tenkar’s Tavern. It should be obvious to anyone who has read this blog over the years that alignment is an important part of the game to me, since I have spilt so much digital ink on the subject; however, I am not going to re-tread over that ground. Rather, I’d like to spend some time with the phrases, “Lawful Stupid” and “Chaotic Selfish.”

As a player and as a GM/Referee/DM/whatever I love “Lawful Stupid” characters and I find “Chaotic Selfish” characters to be utterly boring. It is much more challenging as a player to bring a Lawful Stupid character to life in a meaningful way. The choices they make and the reasons they make them are often alien to even to my own predilections. As such, they push me as a player — especially if I want this Lawful Stupid character to find a way to survive holding the bridge from a small army of goblins as the party gets away with the prisoners we’ve just rescued. That is fun to me — finding that creative balance between fulfilling the Lawful Stupid role and finding a way to accomplish some of the primary goals of the typical player — survive, get enough treasure to level up, etc.

Just going around a world being chaotically selfish is neither challenging nor particularly very fun. From a player POV, it is so easy to do and I’ve done it so many times that I am not really interested anymore.

From the perspective of a GM/Referee/DM/whatever, my favorite aspect of the game is seeing how my worlds interact with player action. Lawful Stupid characters are the ones most likely to have the greatest impact — even in death. Think about how many Lawful Stupid people the world lionizes verses the billions of Chaotic Selfish people that we bump into every day. My worlds evolve and become living things when Lawful Stupid characters do their thing — most especially when they are creative about it. All Chaotic Selfish characters do is allow the status quo to be the status quo.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


If there is one main feature that sets FASERIP apart from Marvel Superheroes and other renditions of the system is its use of a Campaign Rank. This is a rather simple concept which standardizes the power range of all of the characters in the game. For example, a standard comic book-style campaign would have a Campaign Rank of World Class (Wc30). Thus, all of the character’s ability scores and powers would be based off of a rank of Wc 30. While some abilities and powers might be significantly lower or higher than the Campaign Rank, every PC in the campaign is going to be around the same in terms of power.

I love this, not only from the perspective of ensuring that every player is going to have the mechanical ability to contribute to the game, but it also allows the mechanics to be tailored to a specific campaign concept. For example, in my K-inspired FASERIP campaign, I want the power levels to be on the low side, where an average PC will have powers around the rank of Average (Av 6) to Decent (Dc 10). It also allows me to have what might otherwise be considered a rather low-level or average powered NPC actually be quite powerful given the Campaign Rank. All in all, it is a rather elegant addition to the system.

To that end, here is an example of one of the most powerful NPCs my players might encounter during a typical session of this K-inspired campaign (which really needs a better name):

The Whistler

AKA Allen Green

Fighting: World Class (Wc 30)
Agility: World Class (Wc 30)
Strength: Great (Gt 20)
Endurance: Fantastic (Fa 40)
Reason: Great (Gt 20)
Intuition: World Class (Wc 30)
Psyche: Astounding (As 50)
Health: 120
Karma: 100
Wealth: Average
Fame: 0

Superspeed (Gt 20)
Vibration Control (Gt 20)
Force Field (Gt 20)
Emotion Control (Wc 30)


Allen Green is a vassal of the Green Monarch. He is the leader of a specialized police force that is charged with keeping the peace between the vassals of the Five Monarchs. He is more commonly known as the Whistler because all of the powers he exhibits are based on the control of sounds and vibrations. Besides using the vibrations that result from striking the ground with a cane, the most common way he manifests his powers is by whistling. The is particularly true when he uses his Emotion Control powers to help calm volatile situations or when he is using his superspeed (which manifests itself as an ability to “draft” behind sound waves).
For those interested, this NPC was created using the Character Creation rules in FASERIP.

Monday, May 18, 2015

FASERIP: A Campaign World

I have to make a confession. My kids want to play RPGs with me, but I have traditionally struggled with creating a campaign suitable for them and what they expect from a game with dad. As you might expect from a guy who has a quote from HPL over on the sidebar, my default position (especially when it comes to fantasy) is rather dark. Even when I specifically set out to create a world in which I expect my kids to play, inevitably my creativity takes me down a dark ally out of which I can’t remove myself or my train of though, especially given that mechanically old-school D&D is pretty deadly.

One of the reasons I am so enthused about FASERIP is that it is an opportunity to play a game as written that is lighter and less gritty than my usual RPG fare. As such, I plan to rip off an idea I was originally toying with for a game with my kids that seems to fit really well with a ‘K’-inspired FASERIP campaign.

One of the themes found in ‘K’ is that the power that the Kings are able to wield is significantly greater than any of their vassals. This power is of such magnitude that a misuse of it in the past changed the geography of Japan. In FASERIP terms, the Monarchs are Shift 1 + in terms of their power; however, they will not use it unless absolutely necessary. Thus, all of them operate through their vassals who are incapable of wielding the kind of power the Monarchs can bring to bear.

One way in which I want to play this up is by placing the city in which the campaign takes place in a fairly precarious situation. As in the series ‘K,’ there will have been a major disaster which to the people outside the city resulted in the complete disintegration of that city. In reality, the city and its immediate environs were not destroyed, but rather “shifted” in-between time and space. The Monarchs all suspect that this event took place as a consequence of their use of their power. Thus, all of them fear what might happen if they do so again.

This “shifted” reality allows me to have dream-like elements to the campaign such as buildings, doors or other such anomalies that can show up inside that city and then disappear. These places can contain beasts and devices and things of all kinds of genre-bending goodness.

The conflict that occurs between the Monarchs all comes out of how each wants to solve the problem of the “shifted” existence of the city and the anomalies that occur as a result. Some want to return to the time and space from whence they came. Others fear further harming the world they came from. Still others want to explore the possibility of pushing the “shift” into another dimension or parallel world.

Thus, when a mysterious door shows up on Main Street, the vassals of all the Monarchs come out of the woodwork. Some want to find out what is on the other side of the door, some want to destroy the door and yet other will try to prevent either from happening.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Musa

Today is the Feast of St. Musa. Rather than have me summarize her life, I am simply going to quote St. Gregory the Dialogist and his account of her life:
Neither must that be forgotten, which the servant of God before mentioned, called Probus, used to tell of a little sister which he had, called Musa: for he said that one night our blessed Lady appeared unto her in vision, shewing her sundry young maids of her own years, clothed all in white: whose company she much desiring, but yet not presuming to go amongst them, the Blessed Virgin asked her whether she had any mind to remain with them, and to live in her service: to whom she answered that willingly she would. Then our blessed Lady gave her in charge, not to behave herself lightly, nor to live any more like a girl, to abstain also from laughing and pastime, telling her that after thirty days she should, amongst those virgins which she then saw, be admitted to her service.

After this vision, the young maid forsook all her former behaviour: and with great gravity reformed the levity of her childish years: which thing her parents perceiving, and demanding from whence that change proceeded, she told them what the blessed Mother of God had given her in commandment, and upon what day she was to go unto her service. Five and twenty days after, she fell sick of an ague; and upon the thirtieth day, when the hour of her departure was come, she' beheld our blessed Lady, accompanied with those virgins which before in vision she saw to come unto her, and being called to come away, she answered with her eyes modestly cast downward, and very distinctly spake in this manner: "Behold, blessed Lady, I come, behold, blessed Lady, I come": in speaking of which words she gave up the ghost, and her soul departed her virgin's body, to dwell for ever with the holy virgins in heaven.
St. Gregory is a very interesting person. He spent many years in Constantinople as a papal legate, returned to Rome to become bishop, is credited with one of the liturgies that the Orthodox Church uses to this day and, using Byzantine Chant as a basis, created what is now called Gregorian Chant. The above quote comes from one of his many writings, most of which were written in the literary form of the dialogue (thus his title).

St. Gregory the Dialogist

It reminds me that dialogue plays a critical role in the history of this hobby. For me, at least, the most useful and formative texts found in the various editions of RPGs still are the examples of play, which take the form of the dialogue.

These introduced me to the idea, not only of how to play the various games we play, but that the creative process can be a collaborative experience. Indeed, I must confess that as much as I enjoy writing, drawing, painting, etc. all of these pale in comparison to those moments when my own creativity collides, conflicts and cooperates with someone else’s creativity.

RPGs are, in a way, a singular form of creative expression. I have spent many hours of my life creating worlds with their own rules, characters, histories, etc. I have, however, never really been interested in producing novels, novellas or short stories about any of them. As much fun as it is to create them, they never become alive to me with out the interaction with other people via an RPG.

Life is full of surprises and it is only when one of my worlds collides with the manic force of other people’s creative personalities that my worlds truly surprise me and become living things. This is especially true when dialogue happens at the table when NPCs and PCs interact. When it comes to the most important and critical moments in any campaign I have ever run, all of them are because of a relationship the PCs formed with a monster and/or NPC.

The wonder that I hold for that moment, when a world breathes for the first time because someone else’s creative spirit collides with my own is why I have played RPGs most of my life. This moment in time cannot be found in writing novels, plays, or movies. It cannot be found in playing or writing computer games. It cannot be found watching great TV or movies. It can only be found at the gaming table. It is why when (as now) I have not been in places, times or situations where I can play, I pine for the moment when I can. I expect to feel this way for the rest of my life.

Friday, May 15, 2015

FASERIP: Inspirations

I would not call myself an anime fan. Giant robots and demons bore me and these seem to be the focus of much of the genre. There are, however, a fair number of exceptions that I do enjoy, so I occasionally poke around to see if anything piques my interest. The most recent of these finds was the series K.

I really enjoyed this, because it is a meditation on what it means to be a king and what it means to be a good king. In the end, the person the series declares to be the best king is rather unexpected and, frankly, quite moving.

I mention this, because it has got me itching to poach a bunch of ideas from the series in order to make a rather non-traditional superhero campaign using FASERIP. Therefore, a little background about the world of K:

Back in WWII there was a German scientist working in conjunction with the Japanese to create a super soldier. There is a McGuffin that endows an individual with superpowers that they are then able to impart in limited form to people who choose to be their vassals. In the end, the McGuffin creates seven “kings.” These kings are categorized by color, of which six are referenced in the show:

First King: Silver
Second King: Gold
Third King: Red
Fourth King: Blue
Seventh King: Colorless
Green is mentioned in passing.

The people endowed with powers by their kings are called Clans, differentiated by color — Red Clan, Blue Clan, etc. Conflict does occur between the clans, although the kings all seem to be on relatively good terms even if their own personal goals seem to differ. The powers of each clan manifest in the color of their clan and seem to have similar special effects, even if each individual might be more effective than another at pulling interesting maneuvers with the power. For example, the Red Clan uses fire and the Blue Clan uses katana as a focus for their powers.

All of this takes place in an alternate, high-tech version of Tokyo. The average citizen seems to be rather oblivious to the existence of the Seven Kings and the Clans. Indeed, only members of the clans refer to each other as clans. Outside of their small world, they are referred to by a public name. The Red Clan is called Homra and the Blue Clan is called Scepter 4.

The general public are under the impression that the Prime Minister is the most powerful person in Japan, when in reality he is answerable to the Kings. When conflict between the clans results in widespread damage, it is generally reported as gang activity or even terrorism. There is also a precedent for “normals” forgetting specifics about clan members.

Interestingly, members of the various clans seem to be friends, despite being rivals. There are several of these relationships that are highlighted throughout the series.

In addition, there are beings called Strains, which are able to tap into the McGuffin without directly becoming a vassal to one of the kings, although these seem to be rare and strictly controlled by the clans.

This all suggests a really interesting superhero world that lends itself to a lot of adventure possibilities. The source of all superpowers are the Monarchs, of which their are five: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and Violet. All of the Monarchs and their vassals operate within a modern setting, but slightly out phase, where the average citizen will perceive all their activities from a perspective that explains away all that they see as “rational.”

Each Monarch has the best interest of the normal population in mind, but how that best interest is defined can differ greatly from Monarch to Monarch. Red and Violet are two ends of a spectrum and those two clans are not only arch-rivals, but largely operate outside of what might be considered civilized. The Green Monarch represents the status quo and the Green Clan largely plays the role of peacekeepers.

The X-factor in the campaign would be the existence of Strains — beings that have powers, but are not vassals to the Monarchs. This could be the main source of a lot of adventures, where Strain(s) show up and each Monarch wants to take advantage in order to fulfill their end-goal. Thus, clans could ally with each other depending upon the threat/use of the Strain and how it manifests.

Thus, characters would be low ranking clan members who are sent on missions to further the goals of their Monarchs. In a very basic version of the campaign, all PCs would be from the same clan; however, if I ever had the time and the right group I could see PCs being friends from different clans who try to balance their allegiances throughout the campaign.

The thing I love about FASERIP, is that its character creation system would easily support this campaign concept. All the characters would be of similar level and players would have a basis for how to describe the special effects of the powers they roll up for their characters.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


While there seems to be a general buzz over the release of the new Swords & Wizardry White Box compatible sci-fi RPG White Star by James M. Spahn, I find myself far more excited about another old-school retroclone that has recently been made available: FASERIP by Gratis Games.

Some background: in terms of hours playing RPGs, superhero games come a close second to fantasy in my life. Of the various systems, my favorite historically is Villains & Vigilantes for two reasons: I love the character generation system and the longest running and most successful superhero campaign I ever ran used this ruleset. The most hours logged, however, belongs to Champions. While I am a huge fan of random character generation, most folks who play superhero games generally have a very good idea of what they want to play and Champions does one of the best jobs of giving players that kind of control over character generation.

The most fun I have ever had playing a superhero game, however, is with Marvel Superheroes. It terms of actual system mechanics, this is by far my favorite system for playing a superhero-type of game. It does an awesome job of making me feel like I am playing a character straight out of a comic book.

Historically, however, I have never liked the character generation system nor the idea that campaigns took place inside the Marvel Universe. PCs varied in power so dramatically that it was often impossible to sustain a campaign because players would feel left out and powerless to make any impact on the game. I have never been a fan of parading around in someone else’s universe, let alone my least favorite comic book universe.

FASERIP solves both of these problems. It obviously has to divorce itself from Marvel, as does any ruleset that seeks to emulate the system. The real strength of FASERIP, however, is its character generation system. While still maintaining a random generation system, it ensures that all PCs will be of a similar power range. It also empowers the player to customize what has been handed them via a random dice roll.

Another really interesting touch that I appreciate is a section on non-traditional campaigns and how to handle them using the FASERIP system. Included are a Shadowrun-type setting, a fantasy-type setting and a sci-fi alien taking over the world-type setting. This has got my non-playing Gamer ADD revving up. Expect some FASERIP meditations coming soon.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saintly Saturday: The Prophet Isaiah

Today is the Feast of the Prophet Isaiah. The book attributed to him is one of the longest in Scripture at 66 chapters and over 25,000 words. Given how much life is demanding my time these days, I am not going to spend a lot of that time on that text. Rather, I will focus on the historical context and share some of the extra-biblical stories attributed to Isaiah.

The prophet was of royal lineage. He was the nephew King Amaziah of Judah (796-767 B.C.). His name means “The salvation of God.” He married a prophetess and had a son named Jashub. He prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Joatham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. This places him in a very turbulent time.

After the reign of King Solomon, the kingdom was torn in two. Sometimes the two are referred to as the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom. They are also called Israel and Judah. During Isaiah’s lifetime, the Assyrians were busy conquering kingdoms all over the area, including the Northern Kingdom. Isaiah criticized both kings and the people for turning away from God and declared that the various military defeats suffered by Judah were a consequence of this disobedience.

Isaiah influenced Hezekiah to turn back to God and re-instate the liturgical practices specified in the Law. When Assyria came before the gates of Jerusalem, they were turned back through the prayers of Hezekiah and Isaiah.

Isaiah was killed by King Manasseh. Though not specifically named, his execution is mentioned in Hebrews 11:37 where a prophet is said to have been sawn in two. According to tradition this was Isaiah and it was a wooden saw.

Another interesting attribution to Isaiah is the Pool of Siloam. During a siege, Jerusalem’s water supply was becoming exhausted. Isaiah prayed and water started to flow from beneath Mount Sion. It is the same pool in which Christ has the blind man wash his eyes in order to restore his sight (John 9).

The Pool of Siloam had an interesting liturgical role during the Festival of Tents during the Temple era. There would be a procession from the Temple to the pool where water was drawn using a golden pitcher. This water was then processed back to the Temple with the sound of the shophar (trumpet) and around the altar while the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) were chanted. The men would wave fruits, palms, myrtle and willow to various verses in the Psalms. The water would then be offered along with the drink offering made at the altar.

In context of FRPGs, this is an excellent example of the kinds of little details that make exploring a dungeon really interesting. As I have noted before,  I like to have three basic eras that a dungeon exists through: Ancient, Old and Present.

In this case, we can understand the Ancient source of the Pool to be Isaiah’s prayer during the siege. The Old era would be the temple worship and the Present as the ruins of Jerusalem after its destruction in A.D. 70.

These kinds of detail really give a dungeon a sense of place and history. Personally, discovering these details while my PCs explore dungeons or revealing them to players as they explore are some of my favorite moments while playing RPGs.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Athanasius the Great

Today is one of the Feasts of St. Athanasius the Great, who is also celebrated on January 18 with St. Cyril of Alexandria.

Let me get this out of the way: I love this man. As one might expect from someone who has written blog posts entitled Saintly Saturdays I have relationships with many of the saints, and many of them are special, formative and important to who I am; however, if there is one saint who has had more influence on who I am, how I think about God and how I read Scripture, the one that comes to mind is St. Athanasius.

One of the central players in the Christological controversies of the 4th century, Athanasius was only a deacon when he attended the First Ecumenical Council as an aid to the Patriarch of Alexandria. This did not stop him from influencing and convincing that Council to adopt what would become known as the Nicean Creed (which is an inaccurate translation historically, conceptually and linguistically — it should be known as the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith).

He would go on to not only become the Patriarch of Alexandria but THE defender of the First Ecumenical Council. At times, he stood alone against the world, spending seventeen of his fifty-seven years as bishop in various exiles. Several times he escaped the clutches of imperial soldiers intent on placing him jail or even executing him. One of my favorite of these escapades sounds much like a story told of an RPG party getting out of a tight spot.

During the reign of Julian the Apostate, soldiers seeking his execution were in pursuit of him as he fled down the Nile on a boat. When Athanasius realized he was being chased, he had the boat turn around and calmly head down the river towards his pursuers. When they caught up with him, none realized who he was and when questioned as to the whereabouts of Athanasius, he responded, “He is near.” This caused the soldiers to rush away past the bishop in hot pursuit of what was nothing.

At the center of the controversy was (is) two seemingly contradictory experiences of God. One is best summarized by St. John Chrysostom in his Anaphora:
You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same
The other is described by St. Peter in his Second Catholic Epistle:
He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature (1:4).
All of the various heresies throughout the history of the church have tried to explain this apparent contradiction away by minimizing or ignoring one of these experiences. The Orthodox Church has always insisted on both.

St. Athanasius was one the first in a long line of Church Fathers to wrestle with how the Church has always experienced God as both intangible, etc. and tangible, etc. He did so by differentiating between the being of God (which is ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same) and the activities of God (in which we can partake of His divine nature).

To this end, he scoured Scripture to find what he called παραδείγματα (paradeigmata) which is the root word for the English word paradigm. He found that whenever there was a simile or metaphor that referred to God, it would do so in a consistent manner for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

For example, the Father is fountain (Jer. 2:13), the Son a river (Ps 65:10) and we are said to drink of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 1:13). His point is that the Trinity is one in being, but distinct in the activities of the three persons. The Father cannot be a fountain if there is no running water (the Son) or if we cannot drink of it (the Holy Spirit). Remove any one of the Trinity from this paradigm and you are no longer referring to the same God that is found in Scripture.

I find this use of paradigms to be extremely useful in terms of inserting a Christian/Church-analogue into an FRPG setting. One can cast the Trinity in terms of paradigm:
Father = source of the metaphor
Son = the embodiment of the metaphor
Holy Spirit = the means humanity participates in the metaphor
So, to use the example above, a fountain is the source (Father); the river the embodiment of a fountain (Son); and we participate in the fountain by drinking of it (Holy Spirit).

Thus, it is possible to insert a Trinitarian understanding of God in a simple way that is not only interesting, but also feels just alien and familiar enough to fit in even the most Sword & Sorcery-influenced settings. For example, I use these Trinitarian paradigms with the Christianity analogue in my Lost Colonies Campaign.

The source (Father) of the metaphor is Law. The embodiment (Son) of Law is Crown or King. The means by which humanity participates (Holy Spirit) is Citizenship or Righteousness. Thus, the three persons of the Istenite Trinity are as follows:
Nomos (which roughly translates as Law)
Isten (which roughly translates as Crown or King)
Thikeosyni (which roughly translates as Citizenship or Righteousness)

In the Istenite’s understanding of their trinitarian god, the second person of that god, Isten (the embodied Crown or King), became incarnate in order to serve and protect his people rather than seek power. In this way Isten is an ideal king and therefore embodies the first person of god, Nomos (Law). Istenites participate in Isten through the third person of god, Thikeosyni (Citizenship or Righteousness). In doing so, Istenites become embodiments of Nomos as well.

All one has to do is choose what concept or title of God you want to emphasize in your campaign and then plug in the source, embodiment and means of participation and you have a taylor-made trinitarian analogue that adheres very closely to the way St. Athanasius argued for the Orthodox understanding of God.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Doodled Maps

This has been an incredibly busy month for me, which is one of the reasons I haven't been posting all that often. One thing that has taken up much of that time are meetings. I am a big fan of meeting with individuals or small groups, having conversations and taking care of business that way; however, my brain does not do well with large meetings where one person stands at the front of a room with a microphone and blathers on about various administrative issues pertaining to whatever is the hot topic of the hour.

Fortunately, my life involves a lot more of the former than the latter, but that latter are seemingly unavoidable. In defense, I doodle. Normally, I do cartoons or bugs or just random patterns. During this last spate, I wasn't much inspired to survive with normal fare. Thus, I started doodling maps, but I wanted something that looked as much like a pattern as it did a map.

I liked the results enough to share:

The boxes in between rooms and corridors are doors. I imagine them to be made of stone and are rolled/slid into a space in the wall to open them. These are a little sloppier than my normal maps because I usually start with pencil and then ink the finished product after cleaning it up. For these, I had to go with a blue ball point from the get go. Thus, I chose to go with the old Reflex Blue look on these when I brought them into the computer.

I have absolutely no idea what these dungeons are, what purpose they have, who built them or who lives there now. I am curious if they inspire any interesting ideas for answering those questions. Let me know.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Sylvester of Obnora

Today is the Feast of St. Sylvester of Obnora, which is a monastery in the southern part of Vologda Oblast in Russia. Originally founded in the 14th century, it was destroyed by Tartars in the 16th century. It was later rebuilt in the 17th century.

St. Sylvester was a monastic at Holy Trinity Monastery and was a disciple of St. Sergius of Radonezh, who gave him the blessing to become a hermit, which he was for many years. As often happens with hermits, people were drawn to St. Sylvester for advice and spiritual needs. He fulfilled this role at Obnora by becoming abbot.

Despite this, St. Sylvester still yearned for solitude. Therefore, he found a grove of trees which he commanded to be left alone so that he always had a place to pray in peace. This became known as the Commanded Grove or Sanctuary Grove.

St. Sylvester died of illness in A.D. 1479.

In 1645, the hieromonk Job, who re-built the monastery, ordered trees from the Commanded Grove to be cut down. He was struck blind and only regained his sight after repenting and going to the reliquary of St. Sylvester.

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I am not a fan of the Druid as a PC class, although I am happy to use them as monsters. Given that Earth Day was this past week and the seemingly druidic command of St. Sylvester to keep and defend a sacred grove of trees, I thought it apropos to scratch that itch again.

Whenever I introduce the idea of druids as monsters, a common reaction is to understand them as eco-terrorists. While I suppose interpreting them as a fantasy version of Earth Firsters might work, I have never imagined them that way. For me, the most terrifying monster is a human being who embraces sin as righteousness and consequently does horrible things. The best way to tell a horror story is to hold up a mirror to ourselves. For me, the druid is a fantasy version of Earth Day taken to its logical conclusion.

I doubt there are many people who are against the basic concept of environmentalism, which can be simply stated as: Don’t defecate where you eat.

From a theological perspective, Christianity is (for a lack of a better word) green and has always been green. Human beings are the pinnacle of creation having been endowed according to the image and likeness of God. We fulfill a priestly role of presenting God to creation and lifting up creation to God by being co-creators with God.

In the LXX Greek translation of the OT, the word “to create/make” used in Genesis and attributed to God shares the same root as the English words “poem” and “poet.” God is an artist. In other words, we are expected to use nature and the environment in creative ways that are beneficial for everybody and everything.

This POV can be expressed with this diagram:
God --> Humanity --> Creation (Co-Creation)
The proponents of Earth Day turn this diagram upside down. Nature becomes more important than humanity and humanity is more important than God. Thus, as I have heard from several sources, humanity becomes a virus that endangers Nature that needs to be reformed and controlled in order to save the Earth.

There is a dissonance in the logic of modern environmentalism that is frightening. Humanity is both undesirable and the mechanism of salvation. It is within this logic that I find the druid-as-monster. Nature is better off without humanity, which needs to get wiped out. Humanity, however, won’t go away without help. Thus, druids seek to destroy Civilization while abandoning their own humanity (in my own rendition, they seek to become one with Nature by becoming Elementals).

The mirror that needs to get held up to modern environmentalism is this: Since human beings are a part of Nature (whether you accept that God created it or not), mistreating and dismissing humanity is a misuse and abuse of Nature.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Basil Ratishvili of Georgia

Today is the Feast of St. Basil Ratishvili of Georgia. He was a monastic saint of the 13th century who lived on Mt. Athos at Iveron Monastery. He is considered a wonderworker and was endowed with the gift of prophecy, the most famous of which was leveled at King Denetre of Georgia.

St. Basil received a vision of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) to travel to Georgia to censure the King and his court for their profligate lifestyle (in his youth, Demetre took more than one wife). The saint appeared in court and implored the king and his court to turn away from their lifestyle. When they dismissed St. Basil, he was impelled to respond with this prophecy:

A vicious enemy will kill you, and your kingdom will remain without refuge. Your children will be scattered, your kingdom conquered, and all your wealth seized. Know that, according to the will of the Most Holy Theotokos, everything I have told you will come to pass unless you repent and turn from this way of life. Now I will depart from you in peace.

At the time, Georgia was a client state of the Ilkanid Mongols under Abaqa Khan, who died in 1282. What followed was a turbulent period of succession wars. Abaqa’s brother first took the throne but was overthrown by Abaqa’s son Arghun. Another of Abaqa brothers, Qonguram, plotted to overthrow Arghun but failed.

King Demetre’s son was married to the daughter of Mongol Chancellor Buqa, who was one of the conspirators against Arghun. Thus, the armies of the Mongols were poised to fulfill St. Basil’s prophecy. Seeing this truth, King Demetre repented and acquiesced to appear before the court of Arghun Khan in order to sacrifice himself for the safety of his Kingdom. He was imprisoned and executed and the anger of the Khan was sated.

At his death, those present witnessed the sun grow dark and the city enshrouded in gloom and shadow. His body was guarded by the Georgians present and then secreted away with help of fishermen back to Georgia. Today he is revered as a martyr saint with the title “the Devoted” or “Self-Sacrificer.”

Prophecy is a trope in fantasy and sci-fi storytelling because it is great tool for crafting interesting and exciting tales, as can be seen above with the story of King Demetre. In RPGs, however, prophecy is a tricky and even dangerous thing to play with. An author has complete control over everything that happens in the worlds she creates. A GM, however, has ceded that complete control to the players. Thus, if a prophecy is leveled at PCs, it can be abusively used to wrest that control back from the players begging the question: why play an RPG when the story can more properly be told as a short story or a novel?

If prophecy is to be used in an RPG setting, it really should to be part of what I call background noise. In other words, in context of St. Basil and St. Demetre the Devoted, the PCs would hear the rumor that the King had a prophecy leveled against him. The PCs can get involved if they want, or simply ignore it. Note that a good prophecy is one that has an “If…then” statement so that should players want to mess with it, they can be part of the force that can place pressure on whatever variable they wish.

At some point in the campaign (or even prior to the campaign) the prophecy is fulfilled and the PCs then have to deal with the consequences. To continue the example of Sts. Basil and Demetre, the PCs could be called upon to be those who secret the body of the King out of enemy hands.

In other words, prophecy in an RPG can still be a great tool; however, it needs to be a source of adventure background that players can interact with rather than something that is leveled at PCs that then players need to deal with.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Hilarion the New

Today is the Feast of St. Hilarion the New. He was a monastic saint who lived much of his life as a hermit. Eventually, he was ordained as a priest and became the abbot of the Pelekete monastery in Bithynia during the eighth century A.D. This places his life at the time of the first wave of iconoclasm.

On Holy Thursday in A.D. 754, soldiers stormed the monastery under the auspices of rooting out icon-venerators. They disrupted service, threw the Holy Gifts to the floor and put forty-two of the monks in chains. They were then sent to Edessa to be murdered. The remaining monks were horribly mutilated and tortured. Noses were cut off, beards set on fire. St. Hilarion died during this persecution and is today venerated as a martyr.


Given that several of my recent Saintly Saturdays have coincidentally been about various saints from around the Sea of Marmara and Bithyina, it seems as if this nascent campaign is going to get further developed.

The story of St. Hilarion and the Pelekete monastery suggests a background story for the center-piece dungeon of the campaign. In past posts, I have suggested a new take on the sample side-view dungeon in Holmes where Skull Mountain becomes the Mountain of Skulls. The monks originally built the monastery to protect the surrounding countryside from an ancient evil buried beneath.

I have also suggested that the monks therein were not wiped out by monsters, but by forces of Law. These forces would have been backed by an authority that is actively supporting a heresy that the monks at the Mountain of Skulls were opposed to (and might possibly be the original rebel monks also suggested by a previous post).

To that end, I’d like to gather some pictures from a few monasteries for the purposes of inspiration. Somewhere in here are the pieces necessary to bring this adventure location to life:

Especially interesting to me are the skulls with names, dates and even icons painted upon them. These are the skulls in question that need to be found and restored to make sure that the ancient evil is once more contained.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

On Vitriol Part 4

My last post on this topic elicited this response from JB over at B/X Blackrazor:
I haven't thought too much about the relationships that this corner o the blog-o-sphere creates, but I think you're right...the interaction that takes place within "blog space" is just as important (if not more so) than in having a pulpit from which to shout our ideas. And with that in mind, it certainly does behoove us to "just get along" and rise above the petty squabbles.

I say that...but then there are folks that I've simply divorced myself from who might otherwise be part of my communal community. Folks who have beliefs that I can't (in good conscious) support, and who I don't want to publicize...not by talking about them, not by creating links from my blog. For me, these are folks who have consistently put out really hateful shit (NOT "game related"), and while we may share a love of gaming (regardless of system or edition), they're beliefs are such that I don't find "value added" by including them in the conversation.

Is that un-Christian of me?

This is a very important question that needs its own post.

Let me begin by saying that when James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flaming Princess made the business decision to start using graphic images and nudity in both his products and his blog banner, I removed his link from my own blog. I also did not purchase the Grindhouse Edition of LotFP because of that artwork.

At the time, I explained that I disagreed with his choice. Personally, I think the artwork that has real staying power is that that which does not titillate. I also have two daughters and I certainly did not feel comfortable linking to or looking at a website or reading game material with those images when my girls are often in the same room when I am using my computer or looking at my games.

However, one of the purposes of relationship is to follow the command of Christ to love — not just your neighbor who looks and thinks like you, but the radical other and your enemy.

One could quote Matthew 7:6, “Never give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs. Otherwise, they will trample them with their feet and then turn around and attack you.” But this is specifically in context of preaching the Gospel — holy things. This does not excuse completely cutting off a relationship.

This is where it is very important to understand two axioms that are commonly forgotten in an era where the rational mind is overemphasized:

  • Emotions are not Ideas
  • Ideas are not People

When confronted by an idea that elicits a negative emotional response, we often reject the idea as bad because of that emotional response. Therefore, we often mistake a negative emotional response as an idea and therefore a legitimate argument. Thus, one might be tempted to say that James Raggi is wrong for using the artwork he does because it makes me feel uncomfortable.

Emotional responses, however, are not a legitimate counter-argument against ideas. For example, Raggi’s business model has been successful. Therefore his idea has some merit (at least in terms of using that artwork as a tool for selling his product). For a less controversial example, Gallileo’s hypothesis of the sun being the center of the solar system probably created a lot of negative emotional responses. I hope we all realize how illegitimate those emotions are for arguing against the make-up of the solar system.

We also like to use all kinds of labels in order to categorize things and people into easily digestible nuggets of information: Democrat, Liberal, Progressive, Conservative, Tea Party, Libertarian, Fascist, Nazi, Communist, etc. The vast majority of these labels encompass an idea or a set of ideas. We cannot make the mistake, however, of confusing that idea with a person.

Let me give you two examples:

St. Justin Martyr was a millennialist. This is a belief that Christ will reign for a thousand years on earth after His second coming. This was rejected by the Church. Yet, Justin is still revered as a saint. Thus, St. Justin is more than merely a millennialist — more than just an idea.

I have a painting hanging next to my computer by a man who volunteered to fight with the Nazis against the Soviet Union. I could very easily dismiss him and his art because he is a Nazi-sympathizer. To do so, however, would ignore and miss out on a great story, a good man and a great artist. He was an Estonian national who saw the Nazis as liberators and ended up having to flee his homeland until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

I use these illustrations to point out that it is not only possible to have relationships with people who hold to ideas we disagree with, but to have fruitful relationships. Thus, if we dismiss people because they are associated with an idea, or are labelled because they hold to that idea, we are doing ourselves and them a disservice for not looking beyond that idea to find common ground, to find relationship, to find something worth while and fruitful.

Thus, my answer to JB is this:

Is it okay to have a negative emotional response? Absolutely.
Is it okay to give yourself space in order to minimize the occurrence of those negative emotions? Yes.
Is it okay to cut off any possible interaction or relationship with the person who is the source of those negative emotions? I am inclined to say no, with a caveat. I’ve dealt with enough domestic violence to know that severing all contact can be the only really healthy solution; however, I want to challenge everybody who has encountered what generally gets labelled as HATE on the internet:

Go back and look at it again. Wrestle with it. Does your problem with the person stem from ideas or emotional responses? If it is from emotional responses, why are you or they having those responses? This is a really important question, because emotions need to be dealt with in a fundamentally different manner than ideas.

Here is another axiom that I find really useful when dealing with people of all stripes in any situation: if you are involved in an argument, especially when there is a strong emotional response, it is your fault. I will grant that the other party has also contributed to the damage, but the only person you have control over is you. In order to get past that argument and to move beyond that emotional response you need to take responsibility for what you did in order to contribute to the situation — even if that contribution was .0001% of the problem.

At the very least, you can be confident that you have left the door open and done what you needed to do to help the other party — even if they never decide to go through that door.

It also gives us the ability to say: the manner in which you expressed that idea made me feel [insert emotion here]. If you don’t want me or others to feel that way, please express yourself differently. As to the merits of the idea itself…

I will grant that this is not a foolproof method. Again, the only person you can control is yourself; however, it is an approach that helps differentiate emotions and ideas so that both can be dealt with in an appropriate manner. In the end, even if the people with whom we disagree or have strong emotional responses toward never change, we have at the very least given them the opportunity.

From personal experience, the gift of that opportunity has resulted in far more fruit than I ever considered possible.

Saintly Saturday: St. James the Confessor

Today is the Feast of St. James the Confessor. He entered the monastic life at a young age, living at the Studite monastery in Constantinople. He was then made bishop of Catania in Sicily. His bishopric took place during the first wave of Iconoclasm in the middle of the 8th century. While emperor Constantine V Copronymos (A.D. 741-775) was on the thrown, St. James was imprisoned for venerating the icons. Thus, he received the title Confessor. Eventually, his tormentors gave up trying to get St. James to abandon his defense of the icons and sent him into exile where he died.

Whereas I have reflected quite a lot on heresies, iconoclasm and confessors I don’t think I’ve ever talked about exile. One of the interesting practices of the Roman Empire (by which I mean the one with Constantinople as its capital) was the use of exile. Both heterodox and orthodox emperors would send their religious opponents into exile either on the fringes of empire or out into barbarian lands. This seems to suggest a really interesting twist on the classic Keep on the Borderland trope.

Part of the makeup of the Keep is this concept of exile, which can take any number of forms:

  • The PCs belong to an exiled group (whether political, racial or religious). The powers that control the Keep represent those who exiled the PCs. They are free to venture into the wilderness, but not go back to civilization. This would put some serious dampers on help at a party’s home base. It would also begin to get dangerous once they started accumulating wealth and magic items.
  • The entire Keep is controlled by an exiled group of which the PCs may or may not be. This variation would play close to the typical trope, except that higher-priced items would be more rare and their would be even more emphasis on clearing new land. The big change would be the end-game, where the powers that exiled those at the Keep would be more likely to meddle in the affairs of players once they started building strongholds.
  • One of the patrons of the PCs is in exile. This could either be open knowledge, done in secret or kept secret from the players. The patron is trying to accumulate enough power in order to return home. This could get complicated in the same way the first two options do. This option offers another hitch if the players do not realize that the guy they have been helping is actually a secret go-between and they are now accomplices in helping a traitor/heretic/poltical troublemaker start up another civil war, etc.
  • The PCs are part of a group whose mission is to inform on a group of exiles. Thus, they are set-up as adventurers for hire in an area dominated by an exiled power. They are then to get info from their employers and report back to the powers that be. My favorite twist on this set-up is when the PCs realize that those they have been sent to spy on are really the good guys.

One of my favorite treasures of all-time that a character of mine ever came across was a history book that detailed the royal lineage of an empire within the campaign world. My character’s desire to use that information to start a civil war never materialized (my character was a former slave in that empire, but my GM and fellow players weren’t ready to go there), but this is the kind of treasure that could be the centerpiece of a Keep-on the-Borderland-in-Exile. The information contained therein could inspire all kinds of mischief by players, whatever variation the “exiled” part of the trope is extant in the campaign.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy St. Cuthbert's Day

Today is the Feast of St. Cuthbert, who has been a part of this hobby since the 1970's. Here is a link with which to peruse the various thoughts I've had through the years about St. Cuthbert and the games we play. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On Vitriol Part 3

I have spilled a lot of virtual ink in my last two posts trying to point out the limitations of reason and logic and arriving at some kind of appreciation for and understanding of the nous — that part of the human mind that experiences beauty. The reason for this is that it is my answer to all of the vitriol we see flying through the interwebs.

The nous is not only where we experience beauty, it is also where we experience relationships. There is nothing particularly rational about why I have the friends that I do, or why I love my wife or why my children are some of the most important people in my life. They just are in the same way that beauty just is.

The irrationality of relationships is what makes them so critically important. If they were rational, most of us wouldn’t have many friends, nor would the human race have much of a chance at having enough kids for the species to survive more than a few generations.

Relationships have a way of existing despite the fact that we disagree on so many things. Just as an example: I am an Orthodox Christian. The vast majority of those who read this blog are not. Indeed, I would venture to guess that the average reader isn’t even Christian. Yet, here we are. We all have a relationship playing the games we love to play.

Ultimately, this reality forces us all to engage that rational and logical part of our mind to understand why we have these relationships and how it is possible that someone else who can be be called a colleague or even friend can so radically disagree with us on a variety of subjects. It is within this space, where the nous and the rational mind work together that understanding those who disagree with us happens. It is in this space where minds are changed and transformed.

Again, for example: I don’t like Thieves or Paladins. Thieves tend to lead to skill systems which I don’t care for. Clerics are paladins, why do they need a separate class that doesn’t do as good a job of being a paladin as the cleric does? Yet, my Lost Colonies campaign had both paladins and thieves because the friends that I made while playing the game do like thieves and paladins. I found myself asking the question: what is more important? The mechanics of the game we play or the relationships I have around the table? In answering that question, I found a way to include those paladins and thieves.

One of the reasons why I have been blogging as long as I have is because this corner of the internet has been focused so much on relationships. We play games we love to play. We love tinkering with those games. We love sharing ideas about those games. All of these things rise above all of our differences. The OSR exists despite the fact that we disagree more than we agree. Whether we know it or not we have been occupying that space in the human experience where the rational mind and nous cooperate. As a result this hobby has been transformed.

Vitriol exists when we forget the nous and abandon the possibility of relationship. I will grant that there are times when it is warranted, but the vast majority is wholly avoidable and we’ve proved it for years.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On Vitriol Part 2

One of the reasons that human secularism has become normative is the belief that such a system is rational and logical. Indeed, I argued many times in my life that both atheism and human secularism are more rational and logical than any form of theism. I am confident that today many atheists and human secularists would agree.

This shouldn’t be very surprising given that we are so dependent upon science and technology; however, I would point out the fact that reason and logic only make up part of the human mind. Although the Greek word nous is translated into English as mind, it does not refer to rational thought, reason or logic. The best way that the concept of the nous can be exemplified is with the idea of beauty.

No one can deny that human beings find beauty in the world. Indeed, we manage to find it in the most remarkable places. Beauty, however, is not rational. There is no hypothesis of beauty that can be tested in a repeatable fashion. There is no rational reason why I prefer German opera and my wife prefers Italian opera. There is no logical explanation why we, as human beings, experience beauty when we encounter it. Yet we do.

The part of the human mind wherein beauty happens is the nous. To dismiss or minimize this aspect of the human mind is to dismiss art, culture and and a huge chunk of human experience. Yet, that is exactly what we do when we insist that every aspect of our lives be ruled by reason and logic.

As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No amount of evidence or rational thought or argument or logic is going to change the fact that I like this cover of T1: The Village of Hommlet:

better than this one:

Sure, I could rationalize it by pointing out my first exposure to the module was the later printing with Jeff Dee’s illustration, or that I really want to play the halfling fighter as a PC one day. At the end of the day, however, I just find it beautiful. It just is.

This reality can be expanded to the entire hobby. Some gamers prefer the style of play offered by 3.5 and Pathfinder. That game is beautiful to them. I prefer the simplicity of B/X and Labyrinth Lord. They are beautiful to me. Sure, a lot of virtual ink has been spilled justifying and rationalizing that beauty; however, there is no rational or logical explanation as to why we find the games we play to be so beautiful, so fun, and so endlessly entertaining.

While I could expend a tremendous amount of time and energy explaining why all of those people who find beauty in 3.5 and Pathfinder are wrong, pointing out all of the rationalizations and justifications that prove how much I am right to find beauty in B/X and LL (and you can probably find posts on this blog that do exactly that), the reality is that I can no more prove that someone who enjoys Pathfinder doesn’t enjoy it than I can prove that red is really green.

That’s because the reasons we play these games really has little to do with rational mind, but everything to do with the nous.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On Vitriol Part 1

So, while I was away from active blogging, I got to miss a whole lot of vitriol about gender politics in gaming, a fact which I am actually kind of relieved about. Unfortunately, it is a subject that will not go away. Last week both wundergeek and Zak S. launched salvos at each other, both in the name of defending themselves from the other.

While gender politics are a hot button issue that repeatedly finds people from all sides being attacked, this situation is by no means unique because attacks against various people and groups are a regular feature on the internet.

I highlight wundergeek and Zak S. because this situation was/is rather high profile in our corner of the internet and because I don’t particularly agree with either of them. I may very well be wrong, but neither seems to think much of Christianity and I have the distinct impression that if push came to shove they would each probably describe themselves as human secularists or even atheists. I say this not as an attack on either of them, but rather out of personal experience.

I sympathize with both of them tremendously. I believe that ideas are important. I hold that human reason has been, is and will be capable of wondrous and amazing things.

They both look and sound like I did when I could proudly claim that I was an atheist and a human secularist.

Therefore, in order to really speak on the situation (and all of the various attacks that so many of us who inhabit the internet have to deal with in some way fashion or form), I need to discuss why I am no longer an atheist and human secularist and why that is so important.

This story begins in Eastern Europe.

Back when Yugoslavia still existed and was embroiled in a civil war, I lived within a stone’s throw away from the border. Thus, I was a peripheral witness to what was going on there. I heard gunshots. I felt shockwaves as bombs were dropped. I saw MiGs violate airspace. I was actively propagandized by the Croatians. I met and befriended Serbian refugees. I saw things I wouldn’t wish on anyone — things that I cannot un-see.

This experience broke me. I found myself reexamining my entire life. Rather than breaking down the logic of theism (as I had spent so many years of my life doing), I look a good, long look at atheism and human secularism. To my horror, I found it lacking.

If there is no God, what is good, ethical, moral or truth? Rather, what is the source of what is good, ethical, moral or truth? While laws, constitutions and/or societal norms might help us define these things, they are not the source. Laws, constitutions and societal norms all come from us — human beings. Therefore, sans God, we are the measure of what is good, ethical, moral and truth. Given this, what makes what I believe to be good, ethical, moral or truth any better than someone else’s? By what justification can I say that Hitler was wrong?

One might be tempted to point to logic, reason and/or science. These are things that Western society has, for some time, agreed are beneficial to help us come to a consensus as to what is good, ethical, moral or truth; however, in a world sans God, logic, reason and science had nothing to do with Hitler being wrong. Although we may try to convince ourselves otherwise, the real reason that Hitler was wrong in a world without God is that the allies were able to marshall enough military strength to force and coerce the Germans into their version of what is good, ethical, moral and truth. Had Hilter won, his version would be the norm.

Without God and with human beings as the source of what is good, ethical, moral and truth, the only criteria that matters when it come to who is correct or not is force. He or she who is the most willing to coerce with force their version of what is good, ethical, moral and truth wins. There is no external, eternal measure by which to justify how Might Makes Right isn’t correct.

Thus, as our society becomes more and more convinced that God is passe, and that human secularism is accepted as normative we can expect the kind of vitriol that has wundergeek and Zak S. at each other’s virtual throats. While wundergeek and Zak S. have diligently defended themselves by pointing to a variety of examples of what they actually have said and actually believe, it doesn’t matter in a world dominated by human secularism. What does matter in a world without God is that whoever is going to win this fight is the one who is willing to use any and all means of coercion in order to force their world view on the rest of us.

In other words, in a world without God, goodness, ethics, morality and truth mean nothing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

OKW: Half-orcs

This post is going to be a bit convoluted, but bear with me it will eventually make sense.

One of the major challenges of doing a campaign in OKW Cezavy (at least as I have conceived it) is that Thyatis isn’t really available as a source of ancient ruins. In my normal background scheme of Ancient, Old and Present, the Thyatis Empire really only becomes relevant in the present, even though it no longer exists.

Thus, in order to make any kind of dungeon-delve interesting via a multi-layered backstory (especially a center-piece dungeon), I’ve had to wrack my brain for other possible ancient civilizations that could litter the high steppes of Cezavy with ruins. Again, I have to credit Matt Lynch and his Tome of Adventure Design, because rolling on the various random tables found there-in gave me a very interesting idea with several ramifications for the campaign.

Since it is already established that Tharks roam the southwestern regions of the OKW, I figure that it is plausible that other barsoomian races happened to find their way to the OKW as well. My first choice would be the Lotharians due to their decadence and mental powers. This decadence would have lead to their downfall and possible extinction.

It also introduces the possibility that the various ruins that dot the Cezavy landscape have incubators and other reproductive devices, since all the various humanoid races of barsoom reproduce by laying eggs. This also allows me to put a twist on the reproductive antics of the Quastogs. According to Lawrence Schick, the Quastogs suffer from a curse that results in a very high rate of still births. This necessitates raids far and wide of other races to kidnap children to bolster their ranks.

Given the amount of risk and effort such an endeavor would entail, I postulate that the Quastogs would leap at other reproductive options. One of these could very well be a birthing chamber used by the Lotharians before they passed into the mists of forgotten history. The problem with using such a device is that orcs are not egg layers like the Lotharians. Thus, their use of the device tends to end in various mutations; however, these are successful births and the mutation rate is far less than the stillbirth rate.

Mutations, however, are still seen as a stigma and most are culled in infancy. Some do survive, however. Either rescued by their mothers (who may have been kidnapped in their youth) or their mutation didn’t manifest until they were able to escape on their own, these “half-orcs” can occasionally be found on the fringes of Cezavy civilization.

In order to represent the various mutations exhibited by these half-orcs, I decided to take the Replicant class from Mutant Future and run it through the custom class creation system found in the ACKS Players Companion. Here is what I came up with:


Prime Requisite: STR
Hit Dice: 1d6
Damage Die: 1d8
Maximum Level: 14

Half-orcs are the mutated off-spring of the Quastog orc clans. Rejected by their own people, they live on the fringes of civilization.

Upon creation, the player rolls on the following table until three mutations (or the equivalent) are rolled. Duplicates may be re-rolled or stacked, depending upon player/Referee desire. The mutations are expressed as a mechanic. An example of how that mechanic might be expressed in game play is given; however, players are encouraged to create their own “special effect” for each mutation, thus making their character unique.

Mutations (d20):

  1. Cast Scare 1/8hrs (Xenomorphism)
  2. All saving throws at +2 (Extra Organs)
  3. Cast Invisible 1/hr takes 1 turn to cast (Chameleon Epidermis)
  4. Equivalent of Infravision: 30’ (counts as 1 mutation); 60’ (counts as 2 mutations) (Echolocation/Nightvision/Thermal Vision/Ultraviolet Vision)
  5. Lay on Hands — heal 2hp per experience level once per day (Epidermal Photosynthesis)
  6. +1 damage w/TH weapons; may use w/shield (Gigantism)
  7. +1 surprise and initiative (Prehensile Tail)
  8. 1d2-1/1d2-1/1d4-1 (counts as 2 mutations); 1d3-1/1d3-1/1d6-1 (counts as 3 mutations) (Spiny Growth/Natural Weapon)
  9. Flesh Runes — When not wearing armor, the character receives +2 AC and reduces damage from non-magical attacks by 1 hp per die; this increases to +4 AC and 2hp per die at 7th level and +6 AC and 3 hp per die at 13th level; damage from creatures of 5HD or more are considered magical attacks (counts as 3 mutations) (Energy Retaining Cell Structure)
  10. Glamorous Aura — +2 to reaction rolls to impress and/or intimidate; if the result is 12+ the subject acts as if charmed (Fragrance Development)
  11. Climb Walls as a Thief (Increased Balance)
  12. Cast Strength 1/hr takes 1 turn to cast (Increased Physical Attribute)
  13. Cast Jump 1/hr (Increased Physical Attribute)
  14. Cast Resist Fire 1/8hrs (Increased Physical Attribute)
  15. Detect Traps — may detect traps, false walls, hidden construction, and notice if passages are sloped with a roll of 1-4 on a d6 (Increased Sense)
  16. +1 AC (Natural Armor)
  17. Cast Blindness 1/8hrs (Optic Emissions)
  18. Cast Deafness 1/8hrs (Shriek)
  19. Cast Magic Missile 1/hr (Toxic Weapon)
  20. Arcane Dabbling — 15% chance of being able to use Magic-User-only-type magic items (like wands); increases by 10% each level to a max of 90%. Failure may have unindented consequence if Referee so desires (Mystic Sense)

Half-orcs fight and save as fighters and may use any weapon and any armor.

Reaching 9th: At 9th level, a replicant may build a stronghold.

XP         Level
1700         2
3400         3
6800         4
13600       5
27200       6
55000       7
110000     8
230000     9
350000   10
470000   11
590000   12
710000   13
830000   14