Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Games within Games

Delta's wrote a good post here that has a lot of people on the forums and blogs talking.

To me this concept is a no brainer. A well designed mini-game within a RPG greatly enhances the core game. What drove this home to me is Live-Action Roleplaying.

The big problem of a LARP is manpower. You have dozens or even hundreds of players there for 48 hours+ of a weekend event. You never have enough manpower to cover every player for every hour of the event. We learned that if you come up with interesting games within a games you can entertain a lot of players for little need of manpower. One example is the ritual system where players can create magic items and other lasting effects. It require components. The event is setup so that nobody has everything they need. Thus forcing them to interact to trade for what they are missing.

For me the big three for a fantasy RPG are Mass Combat, Estate Managment, and Trading. The first two, Mass Combat and Estate Management, relate to the end game of my campaign. My end game usually involves the playes estabilshing themselves. Currently I use GURPS Mass Combat, and Harn Manor. For D&D variants I will use BattleSystem 1st edition and Expedious Retreat's Magical Medieval Society.

For trade I will use Expeditous Retreat's Spice Road. It is a comphrensive sourcebook on long distance trading for the d20 system.

The major difficulty of adding games within games is their design. If they have any type of detail then you have to essentially design and playtest it along side the core rules. It is very easy to say to heck with it and just focus on the core rules. It is seductive to design a universal system to cover all the mechanics outside of the core rules. However I find universal system to be too generic. When I have to apply to it a specific situations, like running a shop, I having to design it myself.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Today is Harn Day

Currently new Harn material is produced on a semi-regular basis. About once a quarter Harnquest subscribers get charged $25 by Columbia Games and receive a new packet of Harn material. In terms of dollars per page count Harn is expensive. However the quality of the material is outstanding.

In the past (1990s) Harn material was good but since the inauguration of the Harnquest format it gotten better. The earlier Harn material was a through description various locales and entities in Harn. It was very dry despite it's quality.

When they inaugurated the Harnquest several of the older articles were slated for expansion. In addition to the dry description of the locale you now got description of the people involved. This little change has made these articles far more useful. Plus the illustration of these folk are all down to earth. Hardly a Elmore style heroic pose in the bunch and a whole bunch you wouldn't want to be caught in a alley with.

In past year they have started new article formats, the first is a geography description of a region of Harn like a mountain range. While not as people oriented as the locale articles they are very useful if an adventuring party is moving through the area.

Another is a trail article. This article takes an important road or trail and follows it from beginning to end. The first one they did was the Silver Way from Kaldor to the Dwarven Kingdom of Azadmere. Very useful for referees who have parties going along the trail.

Another are bestiary articles, in two or four pages they give you everything you about harnic beasts. Even mundane creatures like cats and dogs have interesting articles about them. The cat include the great cats of Harn and the dog include the various wolf species.

So Today is Harn Day and here what I got

First this packet is the beginning of the revision of the Kingdom of Rethem. This is one of the western kingdoms of Harn and is is the "evil" realm. Mainly because much of the kingdom is in the hands of the Orders of the Church of Agrik (Lawful Evil) and the Church Morgath (Undead )

Important to the history and politics of Rethem are the Kubora barbarians and this article focuses on them.

Each packet comes with a map detailing one of the square grid regions of Harn. While Harn is overlaid with a hex grid of 5 leagues (12.5 miles) per hex it also has a square grid running from A to N west to east, and 1 to 10 north to south. Each of the these maps are contour maps and shows every manor and settlement on Harn.

In this package we get the map for J4 which completes the grid encompassing the Kingdom of Kaldor. It not related to the other articles but finishes up the work on Kaldor done in the previous series of Harnquests.

Next we get two articles on a Agrikan Order the Order of Mameka and their associated fighting order the Warriors of Mameka. Both of these are excellent articles detailing the personalities of the orders, their history, and structures. We get some rules for Harnmaster that showcases their unique rituals.

The reasons for the different orders the Church of Agrik has never been detailed in the core Harn products before. Here we learn that the Mamekas are actually originated as a heretical sect of Agrik obsessed with the finding a lost cairn. If found it is said the lost cairn can be used to trigger the final conflict between Agrik and his rival the goddess Larani (Lawful Good) and bring on his victory. It happens that they believe the lost cairn is somewhere in Peran to the north of Rethem. This is one of the origins of the centuries old conflict between the Rethemi and the Kubora.

Then we move on to a expansion of the Kubora article from Harn Barbarians. Here we get a breakdown of the individual tribes and some of the Kubora personal ties. Plus we get a few interesting bits about various Kubora customs and lore.

Next is a short bestiary article on Tavedogs. Thing of them as a treant looking orangutans living in a pacific northwest style forest. They are about ogre size (1 1/2 the size of a man) and have a mean left hook with claws. They are sentient although not tool users. It expands the list of the known Harnic beast which is nice.

Next are two geography articles.

The first is about Peran the home of the Kubora and Urdu tribe. It breaks Peran into it's different regions and give you a lot of useful bits to use if a party adventures there. I like the Hand of Crador myself. It is a limestone karst region and it's central feature is a cluster of limestone pillars. It looks like somebody thrusting their hand out from the earth. The region has a eerie feel about it, along with several legends about an evil that dwells there. The fact the numerous streams combine into a large marsh doesn't help.

The second is about the Afarezirs a island chain off to the northeast of Harn. It also doubles as a articles on one of the more isolated Kuboran tribes the Nolgind. It is pretty interesting detailing maritime life in a northern climate.

Overall I feel like I got my money's worth and look forward to seeing the other Rethem articles.

For non-Harn fans these article will be broken out and sold individually. I recommend the Mameka articles. They will be useful generating ideas and personalities involving LE religions in your campaign. The two geography articles can serves as useful templates for similar regions in your campaign. The Kubora expansion can give a sense of how different tribes and clans in a barbarian nation can interact. Athough the Tavedog article is good to have if you referee Harn it has limited utility for other systems.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

OD&D paths untrodden

Grognardia has another thought provoking post here about the Dangers of Imitation.

It is good post but it raise the questions about what paths we take moving forward. Will the general history of the RPG Marketplace unfold in miniature? Or will we explore avenues that were ignored the first time around?

There are a few avenues we could exploit that allow allow for new types of products but yet still remain firmly in the Old School Camp.

The first is the Points of Lights/Wilderlands format. Not so much the whole isolated outposts of civilization thing but the idea that setting can be presented compactly and usefully by using a numbered Hex Grid. I would like to see these become as common as adventure modules.

The fact that I had a list of numbered locales to detail really helps to keep my focus. With a regular map you can ramble all over the place with really no limits what details you include aside from the number of pages the product has. This is similar to what people describe when fleshing out a dungeon level with numberd rooms.

The second is what I call the Tekumal model. AD&D had this with Oriental Adventures and the Dragonlance Hardback, and a more recent example is Supplement V Carcosa. The idea is that the author has developed a world with a specific and adapted D&D to model that world. Classes, and spells change but the system is still recognizably D&D.

Because the core of your rules remains OD&D other referee may find useful bits. Just like in the earliest days when referees played in different campaigns and took the bits they liked back to their own game. If you want to play in that setting then the rules work together to give a different experience than the core rules. By adding to the variety of OD&D then we keep the market fresh and interesting.

The last avenue is what I call the gonzo factor. Lead by Mutant Future and Encounter Critical these books are a mishmash of elements to create unique and fun games. While this went on in the early days (Expedition to the Barrier Peaks) I think this will be most enduring legacy of the Open Game License. The OGL spirit naturally lends itself to kitbashing rules and ideas together to make interesting games.

It doesn't have to be silly either for example this path can lead to supplements allowing OD&D to be used for Planetary Fantasies like John Carter of Mars.

There will probably be more ideas coming down the pike as well as more adventures, monsters, and magic items. But these are three ideas I think that authors can use to create Old School Products that are not just imitations.

Points of Light banner

Normally Banners and Ads are a dime a dozen. But every so often there is one that just catches the eye. I know I am totally biased because I am the one of the authors of these two books but there is just something about this banner created by Goodman Games. I think it because both images (from the covers) have a heavy blue background. This allows them to be combined in a striking way.

So thanks Joseph and the rest of the Goodman team.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

More Points of Light #2

I got some questions and comments in the last few days on Points of Light #2.

First Player Maps are NOW available here

Amacui has been drawn so that only the shore line is showing. Only the high peaks of the interior mountains are drawn.

Mazatl shows the surrounding jungles, the lake, river, and the lava. The contours were a tough call so I decided to show the top contour and draw a new line showing where the Volcano's base contour is. The players are going to simply have to explore to figure out where the breaks are or start climbing.

The Misty Isle was fairly easy to do. I just erase all the unknown Islands off the map. Leaving a empty area on the eastern half.

Unlike Amacui and the Misty Isle; the Golden shores is a little better known. A bunch of the interior villages and terrain has been omitted.

Hope this helps everbody.

I got a bunch of "Where the PDF" queries. Now they are up in the various PDF store like here.

I appreciate the feedback and hope you enjoy exploring the four new lands Beyond the Sunrise Sea.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sometimes Chores can be fun

I did study of human propelled projectiles yesterday for my upcomming GUR...


Thanks to a brilliant idea by my friend Dave, a tedious chore of cleaning computer equipment out of my garage apartment became way too fun.

The Garage Apartment has my Game room.

Right now it is not used much as the local gaming scene has died out. The hazards of living in rural NW Pennsylvania. What you see is me sorting all my minatures into new containers. I used to use the blue bolt rack in the background but since Tim gave me his miniatures there was no room. My wife, Kelly Anne, knows where to buy good inexpensive storage bins so I got a couple. They can be found at Wal-mart in the craft section. I like them as I can peer through the translucent top and get a sense of what in there. The Air Speed book is where I store all my Dungeon Tiles.

The round table is from my SCA days and is from a historical medieval pattern. The cross legs slip over each other and the round top has groves that snap into place. Pretty nice and portable too. The brown table with the flowery contact paper top has been used by me since the early 80s when I was still in Junior High. It originally came from my grandparents who had it since World War II. The nice thing about that table is that the legs are held on by bolts. It is built so that one bolt holds each leg in place. It makes it easy to move so it has stayed with me all these years.

Also if you read the Bat in the Attic story that was the table we were playing on when the bat came into the attic.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Light Posting (so far)

Sorry for the light posting the last two weeks. My garage was in serious need of cleaning out and tidying up. With two boys and full time job I just never gotten around to doing it for a couple of years. The good news is that I finally found a Wilderlands map I thought I lost. (Map 4 & 5 Tarantis/Valon)

Finally got my eldest son excited about reading some of my sci-fi books and comic. When I got to the boxes of my stuff I pulled out a selection of material and let him go through it. Since he has been devouring my DC Star Trek Comics and 80s era Star Trek Novels.

I tried to get him interested in RPGS and wargames but he has fine motor skill issues stemming from his premature birth. To say he despises writing is an understatement. One of the games he wants to try is Star Fleet Battles.

I think I finally found a way around this with Star Fleet Battles. Using the Cadet versions of the main starships I can make FASA style sheets for him to use for energy allocation. I have a total power track and other tracks for the different systems. He can then use chits instead of laboriously filling out a sheet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Congratulations to Swords & Wizardry.

Congratulations to Mythmere and his team for winning the lulu contest with Swords & Wizardry

Also it looks like Swords & Wizardry has a shot at getting into the distribution network.

I am working on some independent publishing projects for this summer and I picked Swords & Wizardry as my ruleset two months ago. Thanks to Mythmere and the efforts of his team that is now looking like a very good choice.

In some minor housekeeping news I added the two Wilderlands Demographic articles to Digging in the Boxes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Goodman Judges Guild Modules are back!

Thanks to the new GSL, Goodman Games has reposted the three Judge Guild Modules at RPGNow. I wrote the first one, Badabaskor, and did the maps and layout for all three.

Note: These are still using the D20 SRD. They have not been redone for 4e.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Neoclassical, a term for what we do?

I like what Stuart has to say here about what to call what we do. Although I think the post pushes the analogy a bit too far toward the end.

Neoclassic is pretty good fit for the whole panoply of what being done with the original rules of D&D. Like the historical neoclassic movement we are not just trying to recreate what was before but doing new things with the material that are fun and interesting.

The fact is that for as many fans of the terms Old School and retro there are as many that dislike them because the words describe a backwards look. The words Classical and Neoclassical to me have a fresher feel to them.

It is worth talking about as words have power. As we grow beyond our initial core groups it helps to think about how the niche wants to present itself to the larger audience. But lest people make a tempest in a teapot, this is a minor issue compared to those involving actually producing products. Ultimately the terms that we will describe what we do will bubble out of the hundreds of interactions between publisher and customers. It messy but it will do the job.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Secrets of the Jump Drive

Jeff here talks about his view on Jump Space. Among us old Traveller Grognards most of his post is what we call a handwave. Aside from igniting the occasional flamewar on the Traveller Mailing List handwaves are fun to mess around with. Part of the genius of Traveller is that it leaves a lot of room for the referee to explain why things work. It also helps personalize your Traveller Universe.

Coming up with explanations for the various piece of Traveller Tech is also a favorite pasttime for me as well.

The first thing I have to share is how Jump Drive works. It doesn't have much in the way of rules but what I like about it is that is boils all of Traveller's super tech down to one difference in what we know about the universe. The ability to control gravity.

Many people don't realize this but a lot of the far out stuff like Time Travel, FTL Drives, are possible in our universe. However they require extreme manipulation of time-space i.e. gravity and tremendous amounts of energy. A daunting engineering task by any standards. However if somehow you found a efficient way of controlling and manipulating gravity then a lot of these things become possible aside from nifty grav belts and speedy air/rafts.

It turns out that there is one theory out there that can serve as a explanation of Jump Drive and explain why the control of gravity is important to it's discovery. Let's take a jaunt to the last 21st century and see how it happened.

Kaukji Hyperspace Shunt Drive aka the Jump Drive
(Excerpted from Omnipedia on June 7th 2148)

Kaukji Hyperspace Shunt or KHS Drive is an outgrowth of continuing research into control of gravity. When manipulation and control of gravity became possible in 2071, researchers realized that several avenues of achieving Faster Than Light (FTL) speeds became possible. In the late twentieth first century several FTL theories emerged that remain consistent with Einstein's Theory of Relativity. All of them had massive engineering problems to overcome or required the generation and control of massive gravity fields. See

With the discovery of how to generate and control gravity fields several groups launched research programs to investigate intense gravity fields. By 2085 many of these research groups relocated to stations built in the asteroid belt as gravity field strengths were too dangerous for planetary surface or near orbit.

A group, sponsored by Japan's Institute of Technology, was involved in the investigation of warping time-space. This group was lead by Dr Fawzi Kaukji. On March 16th 2087, Experiment Sled #13 was enabled. A malfunction caused a field to be generated to be a 100 times stronger than planned. Space was folded around the Sled and it disappeared from the sensors of the Kaukji's group. 170 hours later it reappeared 1 AU near The California University Research Consortium Station where its telemetry signals were picked up. Its travel path (if it could be called that) cut a chord across the orbit of the asteroid belt. It traveled over 3 au from JIT station to .25 au off of the CURC station.

While it didn't travel faster than light, analysis revealed it was 8 times faster than best drive at the time. The research program of Kaukji's group was altered and the next six sleds were devoted to the exploration of this effect. Experiment Sleds #15, #16, #18,and #19 all disappeared without a trace. #17 reappeared 160 hours later in the same location with its structure shattered.

Note: Sled #18 was found in 2142 in Jupiter's trailing trojan point by a GsBAG mining ship.

Experiment Sled #20 activated on July 16th and reappeared 180 hours later. It was found 1 au near the Earth/Moon system. CURC began a parallel research effort beginning in May and recovered its first experiment sled on July 28th.

By the fall of 2087 several additional research consortium's were able to replicate both the CURC and JIT results. However the CURC efforts stalled when they moved their main research operation to Earth Orbit. For six months they experienced no successful recovery of experiment sleds. Meanwhile Kaukji published two important findings. The first that successful recovery always occurred between 150 to 185 hours, and second by varying the initial field configuration; direction and distance can be controlled.

In November of 2088 JIT awarded Nissan Space Inc. the contract to build a craft capable of carrying a man. In April 2089 the Sunrise, folded at the Nissan Station in the asteroid belt and reappeared 172 hours later 200 diameters outside of earth orbit. In August 2090, Kaukji announced that KHS field decay was constant +/- 15 hours regardless of distance traveled. In addition a successful fold could not reliably occur within 100 diameters of a massive object. This opened the possibility of Faster Than Light Travel.

This is based on the Alcubierre drive specifically a variant where space is folded so that only a narrow neck connects the bubble with the real universe. This reduces the energy needed to "charge" the warp field by several order of magnitude. This neck is microns in diameters.

The big problem with the Alcubierre drive is controlling speed and direction. What science discovered that there are 15 possible configurations of Alcubierre fields that are stable enough to initiate travel. If you setup one of these 15 fields properly you will go in a particular direction faster than last. The fields will naturally collapse 150 to 180 hours later causing the ship to emerge into normal space. This also explains why in some versions of Traveller you have the issue of Jump Shadowing. If the straight line path comes within a 100 diameters of a massive body your fields will destabilize and pop you back out.

However only the six fields are dynamically stable corresponding to Jump 1 to 6. Think of the fields as being at the bottom of a valley. If you get the parameters slightly wrong you naturally slide to the bottom into the most stable configuration.

However 7 to 15 are like being on a top of a hill. Even the slightest deviation from the idea parameters will cause your fields to destabilized. Which why canon Traveller stops at Jump 6.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Points of Light 2 Byeond the Sunrise Sea is OUT!

You should now be able to order it through your FLGS and other fine retailers.

Like the first Points of Light it is four settings with an area of 135 miles by 95 miles. The theme of this edition is "Exploration beyond your campaign's frontier". Three of the lands depict regions suited for exploration and discovery. Like the first Points of Light the fourth land is set in the outer planes and loosely ties the three together.

The lands are:

Amacui, Empire of Blood. Set in a region where where old evils and bloody empires await.

The Golden Shore, a region in the midst of being colonized from the old world.

The Misty Isles, largely unexplored the riches of the spice lures adventurers of all stripes.

The last is Mazatl the Realm of the Bat God where an evil god of blood dwells in the caldera of a ancient shield volcano.

The same loose background that was used through the first Points of Light is used here. Unlike the first points of Light all the lands are set at the same "time". However they are diverse in geography and locales. It is set during the Grand Kingdom period as depicted in Southlands. For those of you who are interested you will read about what happened to the followers of Sarrath following the civil war that ripped apart the Bright Empire.

The focus is still on being able to just "drop" in a referee's campaign. The map sizes has been expanded by two more columns, all four lands have full maps, and the page count has been increased. All of it dedicated to giving you more locales to throw in the way of your players. Another change is the two word stat block has changed to a 4th edition D&D style. Instead of Orc (1 HD) it is now Orc (Level 1, Minion).

Here are a couple of previews of what you will be getting.

From Amacui

From Mazatl

From Misty Isles

1d4 Destination or Settlement
  1. Kingsport (Grand Kingdom)
  2. Fairwind (Grand Kingdom)
  3. Altimar Castle (Ochre Empire)
  4. Port Harren (Ochre Empire)
1d6 Sea Encounter
  1. A pod of 1d12 dolphins swims to investigate the ship. They aid any character in need of rescue in the water.
  2. A ship with broken masts is drifting on the horizon. When investigated, its hold is filled with supplies and tools for the settlements (roll destination), but the crew is missing.
  3. A ship flying the skull and crossbones flag appears on the horizon heading towards the characters’ ship (roll settlement for origin).
  4. A castle ship on patrol approaches the characters’ ship (roll settlement for origin).
  5. 1d6 coracles of the Lurcon are fishing with their nets.
  6. A squall line heralding a storm appears on the horizon (roll a d8 for compass direction with 1 being north).
1d6 Land Encounter
  1. 1d6 jungle cats (level 2 lurker) stalk the players.
  2. A patch of rare plants or herbs is found. The patch is worth 2d6 x 100 gp in component cost.
  3. A red tiger (level 6 lurker) attacks the party. Its pelt is worth 100 gp.
  4. A rival scouting expedition consisting of 2d6 individuals encounters the party (roll settlement for origin).
  5. A rival scouting expedition is found surrounded by jungle cats (level 2 lurker). Only a handful of men (2d4, roll settlement for origin) remain.
  6. A pack of monkeys follow the characters, howling at them at irregular intervals. This continues into the night, causing the characters to get no rest.

From the Golden Shore

1607 Arent Trading Post
Alec Arent founded Arent Trading Post nearly ten years ago. A minor trading family of the Grand Kingdom, the Arents have labored under the shadow of the great trading houses for decades. With the opening of the Golden Shore, the family saw an opportunity to rival
the greatest trading houses. The Arents invested much of their wealth to outfit an expedition to the Golden Shore. Bypassing Castle Williams and Porttown, they entered into Brachan Bay.
They landed on a light wooded island at the mouth of the Aldarius River, and there they built a wooden keep to act as a trading post and warehouse. The trading post is home to 150 people, all living under the watchful eye of Captain Alec Arent (Ftr5), the Lord Proprietor.

In the past decades, the Arents have built up several trading relationships with both the Ouimos and the Merkaios clans. Alec Arent has sent his sons (Alec II. and Marcus) to live among the clans to learn their culture and language. While the quantities of goods passing between the Akhaioi clans and the Arents are small, trade is growing. In the next decade, Alec plans to send
his eldest, Alec II, into the foothills of the Greyhorn Mountains to make contacts with the eastern clans.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Theurgists, Order of Set

One of the advantage I am finding with the ritual system is that I can have a greater variety of magic system in my campaign. An example is the The Order of Set which can only cast spells through rituals.

Theurgists, Order of Set
Magic-users may choose to start as members of the Order of Set. Members of the Order are known as Theurgists.

• Theurgists Gains 1D6-1 HP/level
• Cannot use any Armor/Shield, permitted to use dagger, staff, and darts.
• Can cast rituals.
• May combine levels when casting rituals (see below)
• At 12th level a Theurgist will be asked to join the governing council of a Brotherhood as Magister. Rarely the Theurgist will be permitted to establish a new Brotherhood

This Order stretches back over five thousand years from the founding of the Thule Empire in the far southern reaches of the Wilderlands. The local hedge magic-users aided the early Thule Emperors in the expansion of the empire. In exchange for their allegiance to Set, the Emperors recognized them as the Order of Set. Since then the Order of Set, Church of Set, and the Emperor stand united as a triad that controls and dominates the Thule Empire.

The Order of Set organizes themselves into Brotherhoods each with a strict hierarchy underneath the leadership of a High Magister. The Brotherhoods function similarly to the Conclaves of the Order of Thoth in that they maintain a building or an estate where they do research and train new Theurgists. The Emperor of Thule appoints at a Grand Magister who is responsible for maintaining standards among the Brotherhoods and to investigate any accusations of disloyalty or treason to the empire. To aid him in this task the Grand Magister has a team of Lord Examiners. Lord Examiners are appointed from the most skilled Theurgists of the Order. Often the next Magister is drawn from their ranks.

A thousand years ago the Thule Empire was expanding into the successor states left after the collapse of the Ghinorian Empire. Formed from the surviving scholars of the empire, The Order of Thoth was instrumental in resisting the empire’s expansion. As a result the successor states kept their independence and the Order of Set suffered a loss of prestige. Since this time there has been great enmity between the Order of Thoth and the Order of Set.

The Order of Set is noted for their ability to cast powerful rituals that involve many Theurgists. The Theurgists of the Order of Set have the ability of being able to combine the casting of rituals and spells to produce more powerful effects. Any group of Mages that are in touch range of each other may add their combined levels to increase the power of any level based effect.

A Theurgist must be able to cast the spell in order to contribute his levels. The Theurgist DOES NOT have to have the spell memorized to contribute. Note this touch range may be extended through the use of a magic staff spell. Each Theurgist can cast separate rituals. If two rituals are cast the same round the Theurgist combined level apply to both rituals. This ability does not pertain to spells cast from scrolls, charms, or wands.

For example a 5th level Theurgist, a 6th level Theurgist, a 3rd level Theurgist, and a 9th level Theurgist are all in touch range of each other. The 6th level Theurgist casts a fireball. The fireball will do 20d6 damage as the 5th, 6th, and 9th level Theurgists can combine their levels to boost its effect. The 3rd level Theurgist cannot contribute as his level is not high to cast fireball. This ability rarely comes into play during the course of an adventure. On the battlefield this ability can be devastating to opposing armies. For individual combat the Order of Set relies on Scrolls, Charms, and Wands much like the Order of the Viridian Eye.

At 1st level the Theurgist has completed his apprenticeship and is given the rank of Student. He is expected to adventure until 3rd level at which point he made choose to undergo an Examination of Theurgy. The examination is of the candidate’s knowledge and skill and involves extensive questioning of what candidate learned or researched. These trials are inquisitorial in nature and are designed to weed out weak candidates. A failure results in the candidate dropping back to the middle of the previous level in XP.

If the second examination is failed the candidate is expelled from the Order and forbidden to cast rituals and spells again. The candidate does not have to lose his class but can continue to advance illegally. This is very difficult due to the Order keeping a tight guard on its secrets. The renegade Theurgist will have to do original research for even the more basic of rituals.

If successfully passed the examination the character is recognized as a 2nd Degree Theurgist. At 5th, 7th, and 9th level the Theurgist has to pass similar examination to advance to the next degree of Theurgy. Degree of Theurgy corresponds to the highest level ritual the Theurgist can cast. Failing the subsequent examinations does not mean automatic expulsion however advancement will be extremely slow as the Theurgist is continually dropped to the midpoint of the previous level.

At 11th level a Magister’s Trial is held by the Theurgist’s peers. The Trial not only involves another examination but also tests the Theurgist’s skill. The Theurgist will be given one week to prepare an array of rituals, scrolls, charms, and scrolls to take with him. Each Brotherhood has a Maze of Acheron used in Magister’s Trial. The maze is located on a building floor or on the grounds of a Brotherhood estate. The candidate for Magister is shown the entrance. His only task is to make it to the exit and survive.

After a successful trial the candidate advances to 11th level and is known as a Magister candidate. During his advancement to 12th level the candidate needs to secure the recommendation of three other Magisters. When the candidate is ready to advance to 12th level, he presents the recommendations to the High Magister of the Brotherhood and is granted the rank of Magister. He is then permitted access to 6th level rituals and higher.

Order of Set Advancement

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rituals for Swords & Wizardy

There is one thing I really like about D&D 4th edition is the ritual system. I think it gives an excellent way of raising the magic level of a D&D campaign without ditching the vancian system. The basic innovation is that you spend gold in the form of components and you can cast a spell without memorizing it. Problem spells can be handled by require specific components that are rare and expensive.


Any spell in the rule books can be casted as ritual. The casting time is 10 minutes. The component cost is the spell level SQUARED times ten gp. (level^2 * 10 gp). Components can be bought at most magic shops like the Sorcerer’s Supply Shop in the City-State of the Invincible Overlord. As an option the referee may wish to impose specific component requirement on certain spells particularly for those 7th level or higher.

The intent of this system is that most utility spells are cast via ritual in the Majestic Wilderlands. This changes the role of scrolls. For Magic-Users and Thothian Mages, they are mainly created to increase the number of combat spells that can be cast. They are of particular importance to Orders who do not memorize spells.


I just realized that using this house rule provides a nice explanation of the differences between Chainmail Magic and D&D Magic. In Chainmail turns are a lot longer than rounds allowing the Chainmail Wizards to cast spells via rituals. As long as the supply of components don't run out he can cast even if the battle lasts all day.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sandbox Fantasy: Random Human Village Determination

The Space Genre is more friendlier to random creation of various setting elements. Mainly due to the fact that space has little in the way of "terrain"and that the physical laws that govern the distribution of stars and planets can be easily distilled to a set of charts aka Traveller.

Elements of the Traveller approach can be applied to Fantasy Games which helps in managing a Sandbox Campaign. What follows is a table I made for a contest on The RPG Site two years ago. It allows you to make random human settlements quickly and easily.

The population modifiers attempt to adjust the distribution to a more natural setup.

Random Human Village Determination
1 Hex = 5 miles or 10 km

Stat block

1 Fortification Level
2 Wall Level
3 Local Water Level
4 Local Soil Fertility
5 Local Resource Level
6 Population
7 Government
8 Law Level
9 Tech Level

Fortification level

12 A-Citadel
11 B-Castle
10 C-Keep
9 D-Stone Buildings
8 E-Wooden Keep
7- X-None

+6 if Pop 9+
+4 if Pop 7+
+2 if Pop 5+
-2 if Pop 3-
-4 if Pop 1-
+2 if Gov 2,4,6,8,A,F

Wall Level
12 A-Stone Curtain
10-11 B-Stone Wall
9 C-Reinforced Wooden Wall
7-8 D-Wooden Wall
6 E-Stone Fence/Hedge
5- X-None

+6 if Pop 9+
+4 if Pop 7+
+2 if Pop 5+
-2 if Pop 3-
-4 if Pop 1-
+2 if Gov 7,9
+2 if has Citadel
+1 if has Castle

2d6-2 Min: 0 Max:10
+6 within one hex of a river
-6 within desert terrian
-2 within mountains
-1 within hill terrian
Automatically 10 within a swamp
+2 within forest
+4 within two hexes of a coast or lake of one hex size.

1d6-1d6+Hydrographics Min:0 Max:10
10 is average fertility divide by 10 then multiply by crop yield to get actual yield.

Resource Level
Represents the percentage chance of finding a resource.

-6 within 1 hex of a Pop 9+ settlement
-3 within 2 hexes of a Pop 9+ settlement
-4 within 1 hex of a Pop 7 to 8 settlement
-2 within 2 hexes of a Pop 7 to 8 settlement
-2 within 1 hex of a Pop 4 to 6 settlement
-1 within 2 hexes of a Pop 4 to 6 settlement

0 100
1 200
2 400
3 600
4 800
5 1,000
6 2,000
7 4,000
8 8,000
9 16,000
A 32,000


0 Head of Family
1 Council of Elders
2 Knight
3 High Priest
4 Baron
5 Mage
6 Count
7 Guild
8 Duke
9 Republic
A King
B Overlord/Tyrant
C Patriarch
D Archmage
E Amazon Queen
F Emperor

Law Level
This represents the degree of the ruler's involvement in the populace daily life. 0 being the lower and F the highest.

Tech Level
Represent Capability more than knowledge. Interpretation should be done on a region by region basis.
1d6 + Modifiers
Min: 0
Max: Max TL of Campaign Region
0 Stone Age (10,000 BC)
1 Copper Age (8,000 to 4,000 BC)
2 Bronze Age (4,000 to 1,000 BC)
3 Iron Age (1,000 BC to 500 AD)
4 Dark Age (500 AD to 1000 AD)
5 Middle Ages (1000 AD to 1400 AD)
6 Renaissance(1400 AD Max )

-2 Pop 0-1
-1 Pop 2-3
+1 Pop 7-8
+2 Pop 9-10

+1 if Gov 7,9,F
-1 if Gov 5,D (Magical Repression)
-2 to +2 if Gov 3,C (Specific to Religion)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Digging in the Boxes

My site report is now telling me that the my post on building a Traveller Sandbox is the single most popular post on this blog. Not a day goes by that somebody visits it. To make it easier to find I added a new section called Digging into the Boxes. A series of links to useful information not only posted by me but from other areas on the Internet.

The next item is Medieval Demographic made easy. A very useful and easy to use set of rules to get a handle on the size of your lands and what in your towns and villages.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Something positive about 4e D&D

Here at Dragonskull Mountain blizack make this comment.

One thing I was thinking about was that the encounter-design structure of 4e makes it hard to do a traditional, Wilderlands-style "sandbox" (or "hexcrawl") campaign.

My experience it doesn't effect sandbox play. Why? I ignored the fact that nearly all modules published are in encounter format.

If you read the DMG it gives the encounter format as a means of exposing the math behind 4e.

On one hand you can use it to make your game like the published module with everything tailored to the level of the characters.

On the other hand you can use it like I did. Just to get a sense of the relative power of the various entities I populate my setting. If the player run into Orcus, so be it.

Yes I realize that the advice in Chapter 3 to 5 (Combat Encounters, Building Encounters, Noncombat Encounters) has a stronger tone than the advice given in Chapter 2 Running the game. If followed literally it leads the encounter format published by many.

Yet look at Chapter 11 Fallcrest, followed by Nentir Vale you see the Borderlands/Wilderlands style in full flower with only four stat block sprinkled throughout 10 pages.

There is more to running a sandbox game than I can put in this post. I ran a couple of games in my Majestic Wilderlands using 4e. The characters felt more "Over the top" but other than that it ran like any other Wilderlands session using D&D 3.X, AD&D, Fantasy Hero, or GURPS

One thing I found that I liked about using 4e and sandbox play is that I would run off all the cards for the denizens of a region. Say Dearthwood east of City-State.

When I wanted the stats for something on the map. I just shuffled through the cards and pulled out the ones I needed. The 4e Stat Block format meant I didn't have to go into the rulebook like the other systems. The fact that the cards were truly complete ruleswise was really great.

Certainly this is possible for AD&D and earlier D&D. I recommend doing this for those games. But I like detailed combat systems and 4e is the first game since my AD&D days that I could hold everything in my hand without looking up stuff in a rulebook.

Ultimately what does 4e in for me is the "feel" of the powers. Not the mechanics. If somebody came out with a gritty 4e (warriors instead fighters, priests instead of clerics, etc) then I would be interested. Despite the feel 4e is fun and works for sandbox as well as encounter style.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sandpits to watch out for in your Sandbox.

Zachary talks about 'Organic Boundaries' here. I been running free-ranging campaigns for a while and learned to avoid a few of the sandpits that can occur with this style.

  1. Embed your characters into the setting. Giving them a background will give them a context in which to operate and help them manage the information. By having backgrounds that overlap provides natural reasons for the characters to get together and stay together.
  2. Remember that you are the only conduit of information. Be generous in your hints and tips.
  3. For long travel times you don't have to roll each and every encounter. Look at the odds and decide how many interesting encounters will occur along the trip and make it up accordingly. By all means use the tables if you don't have a good idea but they are a tool not an end. Tim at Gothridge Manor talks about it here.
Related to #2 A lot of people view encounters and locales like the below. Little distinct dots in a setting.

In reality they are more like below. Inkstains that spread across the landscape overlapping and intermixing.

In the upper right the orange could be the range of the Dragon Xartha. The next to it is the town Crendan (light Blue) who been subject to monthly raids by the dragon. Xartha supports the Orcs (Dark Green) who menaces the human village of Meradar (pink) and the elven forest of Ashenwood (purple). All three are thinking of petitioning the King Orden of Alamaigne for aid (Dark Blue) who has his own problems with Baron Darkeven (Dark Green) who is leader of a thieves guild and making a nice profit smuggling into Crendan. In the upper right the Dwarves of Granitestar (light green) have retreated into the fastness to ride out the troubles. If convinced to come out their aid could prove to be the tipping point leading to victory over Xartha.