Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Call of Cthulhu

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had not yet read any Lovecraft stories. Well I just read the Call of Cthulhu. It was fascinating. Also completely horrifying. It does make me want to explore the idea of such alien beings in my games. However I do not believe, as the stories of Lovecraft posit that humankind is insignificant. I believe that we are even created in the very image of the Creator. To some degree or another that idea has shaped my idea of mankind's role in the fictional universes I set my games in. So my view of beings like Cthulhu is also shaped by that idea. It would be entirely possible for an adventuring party in my games to prevail once and for all against dread Cthulhu, not merely stalling the "inevitable", but averting it entirely. Not very Lovecraftian at all. More similar to the treatment of such beings in World of Warcraft, wherein being like C'thun and Yogg-Saron are to put it frankly, Raid Bosses. Now enemies in my games are not quite "Raid Bosses" that can be farmed for loot and the like, but a true adherence to the spirit of the Cthulhu Mythos would likely not give such beings statblocks and the like at all. I am not ashamed of this philosophy, but merely note the dichotomy between the spirit of the original material and my treatment of it. In fact I am considering having some kind of Chtulhuoid being be the guardian of the Water Crystal in my Legacy of the Titans campaign. Though as the Kraken that was the Fiend of Water in Final Fantasy, the inspiration for my Legacy of the Titans campaign in the first place, was quite like Chtulhu anyway, I might just use a Kraken and emphasis the similarities.sp

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Disciples of Pyro have returned!

Well I have got a hold of some my old friends online and we've arranged to play Dungeons and Dragons online together! I think I might have them hear of the legendary Fire Crystal and thus, perhaps, engage in a pilgrimage to this obviously holy site... Then they may get involved in the Legacy of the Titans storyline. This is quite different from where the campaign was likely to go before, but even these plans are not set in stone.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Classification of Beings in the Castle Acheron Campaign

I have given a lot of thought to the manner of beings found in the Castle Acheron campaign. What varieties of being are there? How are they classified? How did they come about?

There are certainly animals, plants and other forms of life, similar in nature to those found in our world. There are also beasts that are not found in our world, but are otherwise similar to natural animals. "Above" those are spirit beings, which include spirits clad in flesh and disembodied spirits. It is in this category that humans and others that can be considered people, (like hobbits and orcs, if I decide to include them) are found. These beings are primarily spirits, but inhabit animal bodies. There are also ascended beasts that are similar, but different in that they are created only late in an animals life and then only under specific conditions. These would include the kitsune, tanooki and nekomata spirits of Japanese myth. The spirits of people survive the deaths of they're bodies. Most leave this world for other planes of existence such as the Lands of the Dead (Hades, Hel, etc.), or the realms of they're Gods, but some remain in this world. There are also various spirits of nature, such as those found in animistic religions. Then there are spirits that do not have animal bodies at all, but may have "psuedobodies" of different natures. These include beings we might call faeries, but this category may also extend into the third category I have yet to discuss. Elves, dwarves and gnomes would fit under this category.

This third category also includes beings we might call angels, demons or gods. They are not spirits in the same manner as those of the second category, but of a different sort. I'm not really certain about the basis of the distinction, but I do think that beings such as demons and gods should be distinct from men. However, in this campaign I will make no distinction between demons, angels and gods. Though, some "angels" may in fact be beings created by "gods" to serve them. The distinctions between "gods", "angels" and "demons" will largely be a matter of the mythologies held by mortal beings. However, it's not that they are completely wrong, as they're mythologies will have some basis in fact, reflecting much of the actual relationships between the deities. However going further into this subject would be beyond the scope of this post. Perhaps I might call this category "celestials".

There may also be a fourth category of abberant beings that don't fit any where else. Similar to the aberration creature type of 3rd Edition or the aberrant origin of 4th Edition, and like those inspired by the Chtulhu Mythos. I haven't read any actual Lovecraft stories, but only things inspired by them like D&D and Warcraft. I find the creatures and beings of the Mythos to be fascinating, but do not agree with Lovecraft's world view. So the influences of the Mythos on my campaign are likely to be superficial. It should also be noted that my "celestial" beings include certain elements that make them similar to beings from the Chtulhu Mythos like alien forms and to some degree mentality. Some are at least superficially human-like but others are less so.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Obsidan Portal

I have commenced writing up my Castle Acheron campaign on the Obsidian Portal Website. I plan on doing the same thing for my Legacy of the Titans campaign.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Magic Systems and New Magic Classes

I like Vancian magic, but I have thought about different systems. I've especially thought about changing the way divine magic works and the best way to implement psionics and chi powers.

One thing I have considered is introducing ritual magic, like in 4th Edition. This magic may be completely separate and incompatible from Vancian-type magic, or a different expression of that kind, or a seperate discipline that is nonetheless used alongside Vancian magic.

In a similar spirit to my splitting of the fighter class I am considering using not one, but multiple magic-user classes. There would be an illusionist class, also having skill in charm and compulsion-type spells and a necromancer class, but also perhaps having a "white mage"-like variant that heals and reinforces his allies. I very much like the summoner class that Paizo recently developed for Pathfinder. I also have other ideas, like a warmage (evocation specialist, but also like a fighter/mage), a shapechanger and a savant (divination, primarily). That's also only getting into the wizard-like classes, I also want new theurge/priestly classes, probably along the lines of specialty priests. But I have a sort of problem. If there's all these specialized classes what class is Mordenkainen and Bigby? The obvious answer is of course "wizard", but what is a wizard? I don't want to have a generalist class, but what else are archetypal wizards? With the fighter I had the same problem, except using Yrag and Robilar as my examples. I came up with a solution in that case but I'm not sure what to do with the wizard.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Huh, that's funny

So I was thinking about races for my Castle Acheron campaign and I wrote this about Dwarves:

A race of beings from the Underworld, short in stature with pale skin and large, bulbous eyes. They're long habitation of the Underworld has tied them to the land of the dead, thus some of they're kind have powers over the dead. They have a lot of arcane knowledge, which makes them highly valued as craftsmen.
The part about large eyes I put in as an afterthought, thinking "Hey, don't subterranean creatures usually have large eyes?" Then I thought about it more, and realized that that would make them look very different from the typical view of dwarves. Earlier in the process I had imagined them as kind of vampire looking. This conception is closer to Gollum with better posture.

Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, bujt it's made me realize that changing the races will have consequences beyond just the world of the game. Somebody might come to my game with they're own notions of what a dwarf is and wanting to play that. My dwarves are similar to other dwarves, but also different in key ways. I don't want to turn people off to my campaign.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Misadventures of Disciples of Pyro, et al

Well after the new PCs were rolled up I had an adventure for them. It was around Halloween, so I decided to set the adventure in a haunted house. I wanted to have a horror theme, but I didn't know how to do it, so it was basically a hack-and-slash affair with a few clumsy attempts at adding some horror. I definitely would have done it differently now. I have wanted to get the chance to try it again since. Amusingly, they didn't actually permanently get rid of the main ghost that was haunting the place, so I was going to have a follow up, but I didn't get the chance to do that either. This adventure was still somewhat significant in that a discovery in the library of a reference to a place called "The Vault of Valarn" eventually led to the discovery of that place.

Then Santa Claus appeared in my game. He was called by another name, and didn't reveal that until they completed the quest. They had to delve into a cave system inhabited by various monsters, including a troll that had the package they had to retrieve. The players took the use of the word "package" in the wrong way, and started making all kinds of stupid jokes...

Anyway, though these sessions didn't really stand out, they were fun.

Fighting Men

In 3rd Edition, according to many people, fighters suck at high levels. I don't know that from personal experience, but when it came up during the Pathfinder RPG Playtest, I came up with the idea of having, not just one fighter class, but several. Here are a few of my ideas.

Warrior: A basic, no nonsense fighter. Does not rely on fancy tricks, but simple, time tested techniques. Can call upon inner reserves of strength that give him an edge on the common fighter.

Soldier: Obviously most suited for the battlefield, but also useful in normal campaigns because they're abilities allow them to do well in adventuring groups.

Cavalier: The honorable fighter, often noble born. Probably based heavily off of the new Pathfinder class.

Duelist: These fighters pursue battle with a passion few others can match. Basically a "Kensai" class, but less culturally specific.

Hunter: A guy who hunts, but might be a murderous assassin or a heroic monster slayer. Generally based around taking down an opponent quickly and efficiently, and trying to stack the odds in his favor before battle begins.

I'm not sure what I'm doing with the paladin, barbarian and ranger. If I do retain them they'll likely be 90% identical to the versions in Pathfinder. The ranger kind of overlaps with the hunter, but if I make the ranger more specialized there might be room for both. It might instead be a prestige class, and paladin may also recieve that fate. Barbarian may also be a variant of warrior.

I've also considered changes to non-fighting man classes as a result of this idea. I'll discuss that in later posts.

The Legacy of the Titans

The concept for this campaign is very much the opposite of the previous one I described. Unlike the previous campaign there is a plot, and it's very much routed in the Gygaxian tropes, though I am also mixing things in from my favorite fantasy worlds and taking things in my own direction. It's like an adventure path, but of my own creation.

The basic plot is taken from the first Final Fantasy game. However I'm putting in my own ideas. For instance, though I'm taking the idea of having four elemental crystals, which are the primary objective of the campaign, from Final Fantasy. However these crystals are in fact the power sources for four regulatory stations, ensuring that the forces of chaos cannot corrupt the world. These regulatory stations are magi-tech, built by the ancient Titans during the age when they colonized the world. However they have been compromised by the minions of a renegade Titan that wants to throw the world into chaos.

I've taken inspiration from this post by James Maliszewski about the Masks of Nyaralothep scenario. So I have come up with an initial scenario (though I've yet to write it out completely) leading them into the overall campaign, which will lead to the other scenarios. However, as with Masks of Nyaralothep the exact order in which these scenarios take place will not be predefined. So they might choose to go after the Water Crystal first. However, it may prove difficult to overcome the obstacles of certain scenarios if they aren't of a certain level. We'll see how this experiment works. There is also, of course, no expectation that the PCs will survive the challenges that they face. They may fail. I'll have to consider how I'll deal with that. If the PCs all die what happens? I am considering allowing them to choose PCs based on who they have encountered and what they have done. So if they befriended the King and he hasn't heard from them in a while, maybe he'll have his court wizard cast a divination. Then once he's learned the original PCs have died, he'll send a new party. Perhaps they'll even be able to retrieve the bodies of the original party and have them raised!

I have to admit, I have some doubts about this. This is far from the sandbox scenarios advocated by the OSR, though I am approaching it from a position that railroads are bad and that many of the attempts at doing plot-based gaming have been flawed. But I love epic stories like those in the Final Fantasy series and the Dragonlance novels. I want to run stories like those, I even want to run the Dragonlance modules, though they represent a lot of what is wrong with the story-based playstyle. But ultimately I think this campaign will be fun and isn't that what really counts?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rules Systems

Not sure what rules system I want to use. I'm most familiar with 3rd Edition, but I'd like to give an earlier edition or retro-clone a shot. I've also considered designing my own rpg, but I haven't gotten very far and it'd likely be so similar to D&D anyway it might not be worth it. I've also been working on a modification of 3e which is a lot more likely to get done. I also want to DM 4e, but if I do it'll likely be in the second campaign I have yet to describe.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Me and the "Canon" of D&D

Though part of the reason I am wanting to do the Castle Acheron campaign is to explore the "old ways" I also want to at the same time do things differently than before. I do not only love Dungeons and Dragons as a game, but I also love the world of Dungeons and Dragons. In my last campaign I adhered pretty close to the "Gygaxian Canon." I did do a few things differently, but in general I did things the way it said in the books. My first roleplaying book was the 1993 Monstrous Manual. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the monsters found in that book. Goblins and orcs, chromatic and metallic dragons and the tarrasque, and especially the extraplanar monsters (I hope to write a post on my love for the planes at a later date). So I grew to love the world of D&D and sought to learn all I could about it. But as I played I began to realize I tended to rely on what the book said over my own imagination. Now it's not necessarily a bad thing to use the published material, it;s what it's there for after all, but it should be a springboard, not a replacement for, my imagination.

Thus I seek to not hold so strictly to "canon" as I have before. I want my imagination to be less constricted, and though I probably needn't go so far, I am pretty much wiping the slate almost completely clean. Of course it's still similar in regards to the basic principles to D&D, there are powerful, mortal magic-users and dungeons, and stuff like that. I'm not going so far as to "ban" things that I like about D&D, and I don't have to come up with everything off the top of my head (for one thing I am using Rob Kuntz's new Dungeon Sets and maybe Robert Conley's Points of Light and I'm also including a lot of stuff from myths that is different from what's already in D&D or a different interpretation from how it's done in D&D). For instance, the "old me" would've instantly made the Gravelord a Lich, but I'm considering other alternatives. Maybe I'll still end up making him a Lich, though I may still have him be different than how a Lich is in D&D in that case, or maybe I'll do something that's different, but not particularly unique like a Ghost or Vampire. I'm not going to force myself to make something up just because. But the point is I'm thinking about alternatives and so I may come up with something more interesting. Not even old standbys like dwarves are safe from this treatment if I can come up with something cool to do with them. For instance I read on Wikipedia that dwarves were associated by the Norse with death, so I'm playing up that angle, hence why they were servants of the Gravelord. I'm also considering making them pale like in Norse myth as well, though they'll likely remain shorter than humans, but to what degree I haven't decided.

I didn't know Gary Gygax, but what I know about him from reading his writings suggest he'd agree with my view, if not necessarily the lengths I'm taking. When he wrote D&D I'm pretty sure he thought that everybody's campaign shouldn't be a carbon copy of Greyhawk, but that each DM should create his own world. Even when he put elements from Greyhawk in the D&D books I'm pretty sure it was as tools for the DM, rather than holy writ that must be adhered to. Hopefully by engaging in this excersize I'll free up my imagination to soar as high as it should.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Castle Acheron

I am currently planning a campaign, or, rather two campaigns. The one I'm discussing in this post, however is intended to be an experiment in old school styles of play. It will be a sandbox campaign in structure, focusing on a megadungeon, "Castle Acheron", but also including the area surrounding that edifice.

Castle Acheron was the domain of a powerful necromancer, known by the title of "Gravelord". The Gravelord seized control of the castle due to it's presence at a convergence of laylines. He then proceeded to command his dwarven servants to create a series of catacombs, which served as not only a place for his dark laboratories where he experimented with bridging the gap between this life and the next, storage places for his powerful magical treasures, and housing for his minions and undead creations, but also he sought to use the construction to in fact weaken the barriers between the material world and the dread realm of Hades. This is why I chose the name "Castle Acheron" after the river that serves as the border of the land of the dead. In fact, it's likely that the players will visit the realm of the dead, by finding a portal to Hades in one of the lower layers.

As for the upper layers I'm pretty sure that dwarves will be a common threat. My dwarves are quite different then other dwarves, which I will elaborate on in my next post. Common dungeon threats such as goblins and kobold may not appear, which again I will address in my next post. Undead of various types are likely to be spread throughout the entire dungeon, in varying degrees depending on the layer of course. There will certainly be various kinds of vermin. Traps and tricks of various kinds will be a major feature. The lair of a powerful necromancer is a dangerous place. As you go lower, the influence of the land of the dead will get stronger. The idea that the region beneath the surface of the world is closer to the realm of the dead is true everywhere, in fact my world's equivalent to the Underdark is called the Underworld like the land of the dead it's self because of this fact. Castle Acheron is built to take advantage of this.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Disciples of Pyro, and Company

My last campaign was very fun for me. I admit it started off rather badly, as one-half of the characters died by the end of the first adventure, after one breath weapon attack by a black dragon. But after that things got better, as the players created they're own characters. My sister played a halfling rogue, named Karletta, which is based on her own name. This concept has become one of her favorites. My friend Gabe played a human fighter, which initially was named GLMH, after his initials, but I eventually got him to call the character "Gilhim". This character was originally a performer that used fire-ale to breath fire and was a member of an organization called the Pyro Guild. Then when we got to the "deity" section on the character sheet, he wanted to worship a fire deity, which he named "Pyro". Then we decided that this deity was in fact deceased and he wanted to revive him. This became the primary motivation of some of the players, and caused many interesting situations. Then there was Josh, playing an elven sorceress and Joe, playing an elven cleric. During the first adventure they had played the class the other player was at that point. So Josh had previously played a cleric and Joe a sorcerer. They're characters were the ones that were killed by the dragon. Finally later on, Nick joined the game with a drow fighter, named Leeroy Jenkins after the infamous World of Warcraft character. Fortunately, unlike his namesake he did not get the whole party killed. Unfortunetly he was rather underpowered due to the blasted Level Adjustment mechanic. He didn't even use his drow powers.

Where I to play the same campaign now with the knowledge I have now, I would probably have done some things differently. For one thing I would have tried to give Gabe's character more fire abilities somehow. I merely gave him the ability to make a rather weak fire attack with the fire-ale, a ring of burning hands and a flaming sword. He had this cool idea and I could have done more to accommodate it without letting things get unbalanced. Maybe I could have used the mechanics in the Book of Nine Swords to represent the fire-ale attack as a martial maneuver, and thus made it much more useful at higher levels. Also, since I read Unearthed Arcana my ideas about customization of character classes has changed. He was planning to multiclass into a prestige class that would allow him to cast divine spells of the Fire Domain. Now I might allow him to give up some of his Fighter Bonus Feats to do that at 1st level and without multiclassing out of Fighter. Another thing I know I would have done differently was the drow character. Level adjustments are a poor mechanic and were poorly implemented furthermore. Add to that the fact that the drow character was a level behind everybody else even after calculating in the level adjustment, and the character was quite weak indeed! Had the campaign continued I certainly would have taken steps to rectify that situation. Pathfinder has a good solution, splitting the drow into two sub-races, normal Drow and Noble Drow. Normal Drow are weaker, pretty much equivalent to the standard races and so can be played without any adjustment. Noble Drow are stronger, thus only playable by DM discretion (though normal drow are too, technically). Generally the rules for playing as monsters in the Pathfinder system amount to "it's up to the DM", but it is suggested that CR is used to weigh how strong a monster is compared to a normal PC race. I would also try to get Nick to use his race's abilities! Another thing is that I am not certain that cleric was the best class for Joe to play. He never used his spells, except for between battle for healing I think, so he might as well have played a fighter or barbarian. They needed healing, but I now know there are other ways to go about it then making some one play a cleric.

Though I do have these concerns the most important thing is that my campaign was fun. I wouldn't trade the memories I have of this campaign for the world. The game might not have been perfect, but the people I played it with made it memorable. There are more memories to share and I will do so later, but for now I think I will publish this post.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Old School, New School? I don't know!

I feel somewhat torn. You see I have been reading a lot about the Old School Renaissance lately. This is, if you do not know, an attempt to explore the roots of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game and thus roleplaying in general. I find it quite fascinating, and a lot of what people say resonates with me, but I also am not certain about other things.

For instance, though I agree that the prevalence of strictly plotted adventures is detrimental to the hobby, I don't think that a game about saving the world is necessarily a bad thing. Also, though the pulp origins of Dungeons and Dragons mostly include morally ambiguous protagonists who sometimes do questionable things, I generally prefer that characters in my campaigns do nothing truly evil. Also, though I agree that characters should start off weak and work they're way up, I do think that truely mythic levels of prowess should be attainable. After all did not a 1st Edition Adventure involve taking on Lloth, a Goddess? In my opinion the characters who can achieve such a goal should be closer to Heracles, Cu Cuchulain and Son Goku then Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.

I plan to explore these subjects further and I will of course record my thoughts in this blog.