Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Low Stats As Disadvantages: Intelligence

Continuing the series.

One nice side benefit of treating low stats as specific disadvantages is that for the mental stats, you avoid the tired old controversy of "oh, I must now play my INT 4 character as a moron." Really low Intelligence here gets you a reroll and a visual disability. (Hint: Blind characters make good clerics. Get a guide dog or trusted henchman. Seek out medusas.)

Kind of low Intelligence gets you a minor cognitive disability. Either way, you can be as clever and puzzle-y as you want to be.

Come to think of it ... there may be something to really high scores not giving you super big bonuses, but just a +1 and a special advantage like photographic memory, magic resistance, etc. I have been thinking about stacking and high levels, and I'm not sure that allowing 10th level characters to get +15 to hit from levels, magic, and stats is really where my rules should go.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Giant World

The lineage is pretty clear - from Norse legend, through Pratt and De Camp's Compleat Enchanter stories, to Gygax's G1-G3 modules. Add a little giant lore from here, there and elsewhere, and you're in business. I really want to stat the Great Pumpkin, picturing something like a dumb beholder, but that seems like a job best saved for Halloween.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Low Stats As Disadvantages: Strength

Clovis Cithog, in a comment on an earlier post here, brought an idea up I thought deserved further development:
I PREFER to use low ability scores as a role playing opportunity … Low strength score does not have to imply that one is a weakling, but could reflect a prior shoulder or back injury.
with several more examples.

This struck a chord with me. After all, who is more likely to be an adventurer, this guy who rolled 3 strength:

Or this guy:

With this in mind, we can have really low scores, that normally would imply gross incompetence, instead mean some kind of disability that has a special effect. In Original D&D and derivatives, a reasonable range for the penalty scores is 3-6, to offset the exceptional 15+; in AD&D and derivatives it's much the same, except 4d6 keep 3 leaves little chance for these scores to emerge; in Basic and derivatives it's 3-8.

We can use the same table for all these systems if we split up the rolls of 5 and 6 in "6 or less" systems by what numbers make them up.

So when your starting character strolls into the Necessary Contrivance Inn and all the other characters say, "Wow, check out that missing left thumb, did you use some point-buy system and get some sick advantage like Ocelot Reflexes?" you can say "No, man. I rolled it up. Old School style."

More of these to come.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Review: Microscope, as Campaign Helper

Ben Robbins' "story roleplaying game" Microscope is actually more like a writers' workshop exercise - but a very good one. It's a structure for a number of people to narrate a history within a given genre, with a definite starting and ending period. There are good rules for making the premises fresh (actively including non-cliched elements and excluding select cliched ones - I really appreciate this), for ensuring that everyone gets to contribute, and for working through detailed scenes in which small slices of the history are role-played out.

The end result - if somebody were taking dictation of the play - would read something like the Old Testament or Silmarillion: a succession of broadly described historically important events, punctuated by small, vivid, significant scenes. During the game, I found myself thinking of the "periods" level of detail as a timeline:

the "events" level as iconic historical painting:

and the "scenes" level as historical pageants expanding on the stories implied by the paintings.

The rules also ensure a certain amount of continuity across eras, as players take turns developing specific characters or themes in multiple settings.

One great use of Microscope is as a campaign session filler when there isn't a quorum to adventure; similar to playing out a contemporary NPC scene, the few players who have showed up can help develop the legends and known history of the world they live in. In this case, my campaign's elf and dwarf players worked with me to tell the story of the rupture between the elven and dwarven inhabitants of the Olbestaum, a large area of wooded mountains, and the migration away of the dwarves. About 200 minutes of play yielded the epic tale of a great underground tree that became the symbol of dwarven-elven cooperation in arts and technology, then was corrupted by a misguided attempt to break the creative stagnation that descended on the Olbestaum, involving the sacrifice of the first and only half-elf, half-dwarf child. The motivations, misdeeds and eventual destruction of the villains played out in a half-dozen scenes or so, with players taking shifting roles. As DM I subtly pushed the story toward establishing a perilous underground adventure setting around the ruins of the Tree and of the city built above it, now infested by horrible demons but brimming with the fallen treasures of the city.

If I have one criticism of Microscope it's that there are some mechanisms that seem unnecessarily complicated. For example, we ended up just ignoring the micro-level "push rule" about how to play scenes, leaving only the goal of answering a question in the story, scene setting and character thoughts, and the process of choosing and excluding characters. We figured that if there were serious disagreements about the tone or plot of a scene we would just take a vote and move on. Perhaps the push rules are there in case of a less congenial set of players, but I'm of the mind that cooperative games should assume a certain amount of, well, cooperation and good intent.

I also didn't get the reason for the mechanism of Legacies, in which players champion a particular plot element persistently throughout the game. It seemed that continuity was adequately provided by the Lens/Focus rule, in which each round of adding to the story centers on a particular theme. If players have particular interests or obsessions, they will emerge naturally as additional threads. Including Legacies just seemed to delay and complicate the otherwise very natural sequence of a round.

Overall, though, the game is well worth the ten Yankee dollars for a pdf. Another plus: because the rules are geared toward respecting the creative contributions of each player, it seems a particularly good story/indie game for including less assertive players, who can make other kinds of GM-less games a little awkward.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Old School Dungeon ... Fabric?

As one of the very few boys who took "home economics" in junior high the year before it was made mandatory for both sexes (in which I still felt compelled to make compensatory-macho projects like gym bags and pop-art throw pillows) I felt a strange vindication on seeing "old school dungeon" geomorph fabric via a friend on Facebook. I don't know why I feel this way since the combination of home ec and nerdy games would have only gotten me mocked twice as hard back in the day.

from quietlyscheming on spoonflower.com
You can also get dice, hex grid and character sheet designs. Now where's that pattern for a Hawaiian shirt?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

One Page Monster Traits and Examples

As requested, here's the general monster stats page and the monster examples page. A lot of the stats are explained elsewhere in the 52 Pages; the red icons are damage types (cutting, piercing and blunt).

Unlike for humanoids and animals, I don't want to give too generic a set of rules for building weirdo monsters - although as it turns out, a lot of garden-variety hybrids and mutants can be modeled with the animals rules. My main contribution to the process: the rules for "no flesh, no vitals, no bones, no body" which reward taking a variety of weapons with you.

Because 52 pages are short I also plan on teaching by example, in the adventure design and play example pages that finish out the set. There I'll show a couple of ways monsters can be tweaked even further. There is also definitely space in the "expert" sequel for giving more details of special attacks, defenses, monster spell use and the like.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

One Page Animal Generator

Rather than pages and pages of monster listings, my 52 Pages rules try to deliver concise novelty by giving rules and examples for generating monsters. This is the second example of the three pages dedicated to that (also: humanoids, and forthcoming, monsters).

It turns out that the classic Original/Basic/AD&D Hit Dice for animals are fairly accurately keyed to a doubling scale of their weight, with a few exceptions. So, you can use your own impressions about how big an animal is relative to the examples, or look up the facts on Wikipedia.

For example, the idea of an "800 pound gorilla in the room" that has passed into cliche, actually grossly overestimates the weight of one of these gentle, herbivorous animals, who in the wild occasionally are as heavy as 500 pounds. So a real gorilla by this scheme would have 2 HD, or 3 for a leader, far below AD&D's estimate at 4+1.

You could get partway there by making them Fierce (so leaders are 3+3). But actually, Dian Fossey's gorillas bear no resemblance to the monster of early 20th century imagination, whether found in jungle pulp or Hollywood junk. For that D&D has the carnivorous ape, whose 5 HD are about equal to my scheme's 4+4 for a fierce, meat-eating gorilloid.

Ummm ... A gorilla bear, if you must have one, would probably be a fierce, 600 pound mutant omnivore, so 5+5 hit dice. I hope all the gorilla bear fans out there are happy.

Monday, 22 April 2013

One Page Dungeon Entry: The Devil's Acre

Remember the scenario I was going to write up on One Page for the contest this year? Well, here it is; click to enlarge. It fits pretty nicely.

Knowledge is a crucial resource in surviving this challenge, as is having the right anti-devil equipment (silver weapons, holy water.) Defending the penitent is job number one; there should be enough party members to surround him/her and any party members who do not fancy being in the front line. I was relatively merciful to the 4th level party that tried this, and gave them a nearby order of holy knights to get supplies and clues from.

A high level penitent is a mixed blessing; they can resist attack and saving throws better, but let more devils through the barrier.

Let me know your thoughts and comments before I submit this!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Weekend Nightmare Fodder

You know Zak's Thogs, AKA hand centaurs? They play jazz. I don't like the look of the "George" one.

The Mirv Toad. Like a giant toad but shoots d8 toadlets for 30' that cling on you when they hit and bite attack for 1 hp.
YOUNG  ROBERT NIXON the halfling with umber hulk eyes. If you find an X marked in chalk on your leg, fear the worst.

From a forbidden formulary, The Similitude of Aash-Al-Gathol. Requires a monkey’s head, preserved in some manner. Returns the deceased’s personality to the head within 1 day of demise, partially distorting his or her likeness upon the monkey’s features. The mockery may use any skills that depend only on sight, hearing and speech, with Intellect and Wisdom preserved. As the head, make a Wisdom/Will/Spell save after every month passes or go insane.

The old man in the corner of the tavern says, "If you are walking by the side of a lake and you see a fish lying  tail up and nose down in the water, run! That lake is a world. When you walk beside it, you are the one upside down and walking in a lake of air. Do not eat the apples; the fish use them for bait." He puffs his cheeks; air, escaping through the hole in the side, makes a mournful whistling sound.


Saturday, 20 April 2013

Experience Points: Is This My Final Answer?

Okay, after all this discussion, here is the solution I can best live with, done up in One Page format.

The trick is to link XP to monsters, but then associate them not with killing the monster, but with reaching a certain location. This is similar to the technique of placing treasure with value relative to the monsters you might meet on the way, and has a lot of benefits.

Unlike XP-for-treasure-only, it rewards doing other things than finding treasure. Climbing a mighty mountain, clearing a fortress of ghouls, or riding with a caravan to a far-off city now can have their own rewards.

Unlike XP-for-monsters, it:
  • Completely sidesteps the question of whether you should get XP for defeating the monster this way, or driving it off that way, or what you do if you drive it off but it comes back.
  • Avoids the fiddly adjustment of XP relative to party level that sometimes is felt to be necessary. Instead, you make a general assessment of the toughness of the situation and adjust the monster XP accordingly. If you have 100 orcs but they're forced to come at you one at a time, you can drop the difficulty to 50% or even 25%.
  • I'll say it again, the tactical situation comes into play. If you estimate a 50% chance of making the right choices and sneaking the party past a monster, you can reduce the XP award by 50%.
  • Does not reward kill-farming or worse yet (hello 2nd edition D&D) kill-stealing.
  • Calculating and dividing XP is easier - it happens less often and the DM can even fudge the numbers a little so they're evenly divisible for the party.
  • Rewards avoiding random or irrelevant monsters.
  • Has some consideration of traps, tricks and obstacles.
Unlike the straight XP-for-exploring idea, it:
  • Clearly rewards seeking danger.
  • Gives a benchmark for how many XP should be associated with a given goal.
  • Allows for a variety of scenarios; if someone is willing to pay the party to kill a random monster, then the pay counts as XP.
The other ideas I've been using in my games, to generally good effect. Missing, yes, is carousing; but I have some room on my Settlements page I'm going to use to put forth a general money-for-xp+random effects procedure.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Low Stats Are Good, Too

Here's the Random Wizard on G+:

I have been noodling over trying to make a system where having a low score is not necessarily a bad thing. It is easy for Charisma. You can make a low Charisma score = fearsome. Not so sure what could be done for the other ability scores...

Challenge accepted!

High STR = Low Manual Dexterity (missile weapons, lock and trap work). Fingers like hotdogs. Low STR = High Manual Dexterity. That works. You don't need two separate stats for manual and bodily dexterity - you need reversed Strength for manual.

DEX is bodily dexterity (AC, climbing, stealth), and low DEX = high CON (physical steadiness, tankitude). So we collapse those two stats into one.

You can get hit points from high DEX (dodge points) or low DEX (tank points). Outstanding.

High INT is book larnin'. Low INT is street smarts. Your players aren't morons, why should their characters be?

High WISdom is awareness and sensitivity. Low WISdom is willpower and steadiness. Probably it needs a different name - Awareness, Perception, Openness? but then it did already.

A cleric can draw on either extreme. Illustration:

Low CHA can be intimidation (affects opponent's Morale rolls) if high CHA is ingratiation (affects their Reaction rolls).

Assumptions we're making:

1. Adventurers are exceptional. In any given domain they either have something going for them, or are totally average.
2. Some traits like muscle mass and fine motor skills are inversely correlated. Probably no more unrealistic than the default assumption that all skills are completely uncorrelated (most glaringly STR and CON). Again, would a complete weakling and klutz really set out on the path of adventure?
3. Characters can still (quite unlikely) be boring, but rarely useless.

Thanks, Random Wizard!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Is the Cartoon Dungeon Master Your Petty God?

After titling my antepenultimate post "Is the Dungeon Master Your Cleric's God?" I couldn't resist ...

What if the characters in your game gained some awareness about who was really running the show? What if that much-battered fourth wall came tumbling down yet again? What if this guy was a Petty God? I'll tell you straight off the bat,  he ain't showing up to give out no extra healing surges ...

Name: The Dungeon Master
Symbol: A rosary of the five Platonic solids
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: Immobile; teleports without error
Armor Class: 0 [19]
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 75hp (15 HD)
Attacks: None (but can cast any magic-user spell at will)
Damage: None
Save: MU15
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: ALL OF THEM, each stored away behind a near-impossible trap or trick
XP: -500, you knucklehead, you killed the Dungeon Master

To those who fervently believe that all is not mere happenstance and random encounters ... to those who believe in a cosmic Holder of the Dice, Stocker of Ruins and Sketcher of Maps who looks after the challenges and rewards of those who seek adventure ... the Dungeon Master's avatar will sometimes appear, as an elderly, gnomic savant of either gender. "Gods? I invented your whole pantheon in ninth grade!"

Organized worship and priesthood of the Dungeon Master is nearly non-existent. Those holy people who do devote themselves to service of this godling - or over-god - immure themselves in dangerous dungeons, where they offer healing services and advice, and do not tend to survive very long.

When a band of loyal adventurers, after much effort and cogitation, is truly at wits' end for what to do, there is a 1% spontaneous chance that the Dungeon Master will appear. He does not reply to intentional entreaties, but the chance of appearing increases to 10% if someone in the party mentions her offhand, +5% in either case if the Polyhedral Rosary is held fervidly by a party member. There is also a 5% chance of an appearance, shifted two rows into the hostile, if the players find some way to abusively exploit the rules. 

The Dungeon Master is impressed by resourcefulness and resolution, unimpressed by rules arguing, whining and passivity. Reaction results are as follows:

Friendly: Will give the information sought. In this mood she often highlights the way to the best-prepared adventure nearby, by causing an illusionary manifestation of two iron tracks stretching into the correct direction.

Cordial: Will give the information sought, but disguised as an annoying rhyme or riddle.

Neutral: Will give only tangentially relevant information or unhelpful babble. In the case of a rules abuse, will mock the players with the epithets "twink," "munchkin" and so on, but allow the rules exploit to continue until the next "cosmic patch" in d8 days.

Unfriendly: Will share unflattering truths about the players' performance so far, topped off with a patronizing, pat moral delivered to some unseen viewer. If unfriendly or worse, in the case of summoning to deal with a rules abuse, the rule will be corrected immediately, with a mysterious chiming and a great shift in the laws of the multiverse.

Hostile: Will cause random wandering monsters or events to appear, often rolled from a completely irrelevant table to show off his power; or will use spells to hinder and bother the party.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Swords AND Wizardry: Together At Last

I didn't really know what to post for the Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day, because most of what I write recently has been for any old school systems with Hit Dice, levels, Armor Class, d20 hits and saves. Even though I did write my first supplement, Varlets and Vermin, for S&W. So I kind of stood back from the whole blogroll thing.

I suppose that this is a world where some people actually got upset when it looked like Dwimmermount was going to be produced only for ACKS and not for Labyrinth Lord or whatever. So I could hoist the banner of edition war and proclaim my love for Basic and its clone children and my own hybrid Basic/3rd Ed/Flame Princess spawn.

Instead I dip it in tribute. A salute to Swords and Wizardry!

Okay, now here is something about swords and wizardry if you have got this far. See, usually swords and wizardry are said to be complementary or even opposed to one another, like this guy got the swords and that guy got the wizardry. But what if you could wield swords AND wizardry? Huh?

Seriously, no armor, hit dice of a scrawny kobold, and you get upset about some wizards wielding a sword and barely able to hit with it because they might evolve into the ultimate GITH MACHINE? Well listen, I know some of these WIZARDS OF THE SWORD.

There are two orders of them locked into eternal struggle. The RED SWORD wizards need to kill something with blood in it every day with their sword before they can cast any spells. The hit dice of the strongest thing they kill determines the highest level they can cast that day, except things that are killed as sacrifice (like a cow or something they buy) count only at half hit dice. If they kill something bigger later in the day they can open up the memory of those high level spells. These are the bad guys but fun to play if you like picking fights. They get to wear chain armor but can only ever use the sword to fight.

The WHITE SWORD wizards are the other way around. They can only start using their sword once they have cast all their spells, using their blade as a kind of magic wand or holy symbol. If they spill blood with it, their spells start to go into the victim and give the victim back 2 hit points per spell level until fully healed. Matter of fact, if you need really inefficient healing that can kill you before it makes you better, these guys are your huckleberry (they can pull their sword blow to just do half damage, but still). These are the good guys, they can't wear armor and can only ever use the sword to fight.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Does Clerical Magic Mean You Know God?

When writers put on their brainy caps and work out the naturalistic consequences of a world built around the
D&D game rules, one common assumption is that the metaphysical world is known and familiar. You can tell who is really Lawful Good, at least if they're clerics or paladins, because they have their special spells. They can talk to their god and summon angels, and from this people gain tangible evidence of the world after death and the consequences of moral acts. As a result, everyone believes in religion; bad guys just pick a different team. And everyone can trust "working" clerics and paladins to be morally good. If they were corrupted somehow, they would lose their mojo. Oh yeah, all this and ... alignment detection too. Or better yet, alignment language.

The more I think about such a world, the more profoundly unsatisfying it appears, as a place to imagine and adventure in. I'm not even talking about limitations on the cleric player's actions, which I criticized last post.

I'm talking about a world that lacks:

  • Dissension on moral issues within a religion
  • Venal, self-interested priests
  • Bad priests hiding within a good religion
  • Outsider prophets who are persecuted by their own religion's conventions
  • Uncertainty and debate about the ultimate nature of the universe
  • People who act immorally in the here and now because there may not be an ultimate reward or punishment. 

Because of the oppressive obviousness of Truth in such a world, faith is not really faith, any more than believing in maple trees is faith.  Evil now needs an extra sales pitch - a devil convincing you that if you sin really flamboyantly, you'll get in on the ground floor of Hell's Fun Times.

You may as well cut these passages out from the scriptures of a less transparent world:

  • Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 1:11)
  • But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils. (Matthew 9:34)
  • And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. (Mark 8:12)

On the contrary, in my world, clerical magic is a mystery. It uses the standard invocations and rites of religion, but not every ordained minister who uses those invocations and rites will get the magical effect, and not every time - it is prophetic, not priestly. Regardless of whether the magic is reliable or ineffable, though, it ultimately does not depend on keeping up a certain standard of behavior. This is because:

1. The Mind of (a) God is vast, and contains many contradictions. A certain level of dissension in the Church reflects this, and reflects nothing more than the divine totality weighing arguments and coming to decisions. Almost all acts that are not inherently unholy - merciful or strict, generous or stingy - can be justified as a reflection of the Divine. Sufficient will, and the belief that one is holy, are enough to fuel prophetic magic.

2. A prophet sometimes has to break with conventional morality in order to send a lesson to the flock. What appears to be sin, violence, looting, lust ... can instead be a rebuke to a world consumed by these sins on a much higher level.

3. The above justifications come handily to those who cross the line into the foul and unholy. The Devil is a great deceiver; he will gladly step in to duplicate the healing miracles and exorcisms of one who has strayed from the path. If the player keeps their in-game benefits, what matter where they come from? Any discomfort at the slight stench of sulfur attending those miracle cures is entirely a matter of role-playing. Live for today, for there is no game after your character dies!

Monte Cook, as usual, can't be satisfied with a pat answer either. In the middle of Ptolus - a setting where clerics, by the book, dwell in every temple, and magic and the gods appear obvious and real - he leaves open this possibility:

The people here have come to listen to a new elf philosopher named Waeven Iosanil (male expert8), who is telling everyone who will listen that the gods are not truly divine, but only powerful entities, not unlike great wyrm dragons or powerful angels. The only true divine being is the world itself, this radical speaker claims. (p. 337)
Even if this elf is completely in the wrong, he opens up a strong breeze of freedom in the metaphysics of the setting. He allows for the possibility that the self-evident is actually false - and with this come the free will and uncertainty that makes for an interesting and complex game.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Is the Dungeon Master Your Cleric's God?

Clerical magic in D&D - pre-memorized, predictable, healing-heavy - strikes a lot of people as not quite right. I've covered this ground before, but in thinking how the final 52 Page Prophet class should work, a few things are still not clear to me.

What is clear: a need to move from a standardized list of "miracles" to a list of choices, so that players can be druid (or Franciscan) nature priests, healers, abjurers, diviners at will: the same kind of choice that wizards get.

What is also clear: having a separate module for hit point restoration, as I do currently, is good. It means miracles aren't short-changed for healing, and because it's presented as confidence rebuilding rather than actual physical healing, it can be farmed out to composite classes like bards or commanders.

What is less clear: how clerical magic should be different from wizard magic.

Some follow an intuition that clerical magic should work less predictably: basing it on a turning roll (Talysman's way) or some other random roll (Brendan's way). Currently in my 52 Pages, for prophets, one miracle is free and you keep getting miracles as long as you make a Mind save.

Others go farther and insist the clerical magic should involve developing a relationship with a divine agency. The first edition AD&D Players Handbook started this trend, basing clerical spells of high level on good behavior, and being even more harsh toward the paladin. Dungeon Crawl Classics has not only the cleric, but the wizard, dependent on the favor or disfavor of a supernatural entity. Under these rules, the cleric-type should behave in ways approved by the god. For following these strictures they get rewards and for ignoring them they get punished.

So, when I last turned my thoughts to this, I came out on the side that clerical magic should not just be random, but should reflect a relationship between cleric and a free-willed deity- much like the one between any other character type and their trainer or mentor.

There are three problems with this, though, as I've realized lately:

1. As with my old observations on alignment, I never had the urge to turn that observation into an actual system, or to play that way - which should be telling me something. The shocking things that you'd think might happen if you just let cleric-type players do their thing, don't actually happen in my experience. Mostly, they either act up to the pious standard, or present a cheerfully helpful healing service to a venal expedition. Letting them be wild and erratic-seeming "prophets" rather than staid "priests" helps, somewhat.

2. I have no desire as DM to be treated as a god - yet that is exactly what happens when you start acting out the relationship between deity and worshiper. I suppose for a player who wants to take on that challenge, I could oblige, just as I take all the myriad roles of the world. But to make it a mechanical requirement of the basic functioning of a character just seems wrong. Although social relationships may be important to some individual characters, I want to give players the freedom, always, to take or leave those relationships.

3. Finally, subjecting the divine relationship to rules, even random ones or player-skill ones, is a kind of theology that leads to bad, ultimately unsatisfying consequences. Let me explain ... but next time, where I'll also consider what would happen if you did have a cleric-player who took their character very much off the rails.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

One Page Falling & Hazards

The falling rules give 1d6/10' a little more teeth. Yeah, it takes something like 2000' to reach terminal velocity but to simplify we're capping it at 100' fall.

Traps are, well, there you go. There wasn't enough room to tell people to just put traps in where traps would logically be, rather than randomly in the middle of corridors the inhabitants want to use, corners of rooms, etc. I'm giving a simple mechanical solution because the whole figure-it-out-by-DM-discussion requires a lot of knowledge and advice (like this series).

Still to go: cleanup on monsters, treasure, examples, and a whole lot of tweaking and fixing.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The Sleep of Reason

Yeah, I know, I should finish the 52 Pages ... and the d20 table series ... and the wilderness encounter series ...

But I've been nursing this idea for a while - a companion to the monstrous visions of the great imaginative artists, Bosch, Breughel, Goya, the Surrealists, and lesser known figures. A sort of sequel to Varlets and Vermin, if you will.
For example, Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland, who dreamed of gigantic ghouls before ever there was a Lovecraft:

Or John Mortimer's fish-herding mer-satyr.

Or this nonesuch of obscure allegory from George Dance.

Surely the compilation would also contain Bosch's creatures from the "Temptation of St. Anthony" (youtube) level of my Castle Ruins.

Ah well, maybe some other time - back to finishing all the half-finished stuff!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Walking Heads, Swamp Lords and the Cock O' Doom: Valley of the Four Winds III

The spirit of Hieronymus Bosch was flexed in the Valley of the Four Winds miniatures range with the Grand Wizard, the dourly ascending fellow below, and his bizarre minions.

These two charmers are possibly the only known miniature castings of the gryllus monster I wrote about in the fall. Seriously wanting one of these!

Among the other Bosch-inspired oddities are this old woman changing into fire - probably a glass cannon-type monster, 1 HD, AC 9[10], unarmored, if it gets into close combat range starts burning for 2d6 damage/round. Or, scarier still, she changes into a small fire elemental when "killed"?

And, of course, the giant, human-faced Cock O' Doom and its Faceless Rider.

The Cock looks to be about a 4+4 HD critter, AC 6[13], MV 18 or 15 with rider, pecks for d8. It can crow at will, creating a magical fear effect within 60' (make a Will/Spell/WIS save to be immune henceforth). If the crowing happens at the exact moment of dawn, the effect is death instead. The Faceless Rider is either an unseen servant decoy, or a spectre. Bet you wish you knew which.

The only figures in this line I actually owned, and painted with lurid aqua skin, gold ornaments, and magenta loincloths, were the Swamp Lord minions. These cruel, frog-legged creatures liked to decorate with severed heads. The one on the left is also carrying a head-shaped bowl and no prizes for guessing what goes in it.

Stat-wise, they seem best represented by sahuagin, with the breathing apparatuses on their backs allowing them to range overland for extended campaigns. If struck from behind with an odd numbered damage amount, the aerolungs are damaged, and the Swamp Lord loses morale and beats it back to the nearest breathable water.

Before closing out this series, I also want to say that in the past month or so, many of these figures appear to have been recast and are on offer from Minifigs. These are mostly Swamp Lords but you might miss their more extensive offering of Four Winds skeletons on a different page. Perhaps with more purchases, more figures will go back into production?

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Miniatures Flashback: Valley of the Four Winds II

The Valley of the Four Winds miniatures showed a lot of inventiveness in dealing with some of their "factions." For example, the Pixies had rat riders, a figure carrying a puffball on a "spore stick" (hit to force a Body/Poison/CON save, or paralyzed and infected with a disease which kills in d4 days) and a slingshot-like catapult, which probably needed a rubber band and some kind of missile to model correctly:

You can treat this weapon as a normal sling, perhaps, with +2 to hit owing to the direct aim and fixed pivot.

The Pixies' foes, Forest Orcs, didn't quite work for me with their chainmail onesies:

If the Orcs had beards, the dwarfs definitely reversed roles even further, with no beards themselves but all manner of weird noses and animal-like snouts:


In particular, Dwarf King Gondemar (on the left) has me thinking about the one-of-a-kind "funny animal" character in fantasy ... Snarf, Cerebus, Howard the Duck. How many campaigns dare to include such a nonesuch adventurer with a backstory nobody dares ask?

Now, the best developed  Four Winds minis were the skeletons, which I'll venture to crown as the top set of skeletal miniatures ever devised. Modeled after Breughel's Triumph of Death, the undead horde made a most impressive parade, as assembled for this grainy White Dwarf magazine ad:

Not just the bell, but gibbets, reapers, skeletal cavalry and death wagon, coffin bearers, skeletons menacing the living, Spanish-style penitents in pointy hoods, skeletal monks in hooded robes. And not just skeletons, but monk-robed wraiths, witches, dancing demons and imps, and the devils, Beelzebub, all dressed up for a witches' sabbath ...

and this demented-looking Satan.

Few lines of miniatures captured the obsessions of pre-modern folk beliefs as accurately. Even their crudeness of sculpting, in a way, brought the Four Winds series into line with the bas-reliefs and daubings of the Middle Ages themselves.

Next: Closing out with the Grand Wizard, the Swamp Lords, and information on the resurrection of the miniatures line.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Miniatures Flashback: Valley of the Four Winds I

Miniatures shopping in the early 80's was a strange and fascinating time. The relatively lumpish sculpts of Heritage, Grenadier and smaller companies were giving way to crisper lines like Ral Partha. But there was plenty of creativity and raw vigor to go around. I ogled more miniatures in the shops than I actually could buy or paint. A few lines, though, stand out as legendary, impressive, and still traded on Ebay. In this irregular series I go back over a few of them.

Valley of the Four Winds was a short-lived world in the Games Workshop line, with an epic board wargame created by Lewis Pulsipher, serial fiction in White Dwarf by one Rowland Flynn, and figures (but as far as I know no miniatures rules for them) created by Minifigs and attributed here to sculptor Dick Higgs. While the world contained orcs, pixies and dwarves, much of the feel was Renaissance rather than Medieval, with obvious nods to imaginative painting of the Flemish school - Bosch, Breughel.

Courtesy of the Lost Minis Wiki we can relive some of the stranger and more impressive pieces over the next few posts.

One thing the series excelled at were elaborate multi-piece command sets. The skeletons had their Great Bell:

The Wind Demon got hauled around in a chariot - you'd think he could

While the Lord of the Swamps got carried:

Another feature of the series were the kind of grisly, unique scenery pieces that begged to have dungeon features designed around them. Take, for instance...

The man trapped in a coffin with rats. I think he can be rescued, but will die without serious healing and Cure Disease. It turns out he is a wealthy merchant whose family disowned him for snitching on his brother, the competition, to the revenue authorities, and who put him in this situation as a terribly appropriate revenge. He will hand out a 5000$ reward to the group that can save his life.

The giant fire wheel. 1d6 fire damage if you don't jump out of the way in time (Speed/breath weapon/DEX save.) 50$ for the wheels and alchemical compounds that make it burn sustainedly.

Did I say Breughel? Goya makes an appearance in this "Body speared on tree."

And few miniatures lines would dare to come out with a giant ... woodlouse. HD 4, AC 3 [16], MV 6, attack 1d4, can curl up and roll at 12" rate (no attack possible) for AC 0 [19].

Next: The factions of the Valley.