Friday, October 31, 2014

Cosplay

Happy Halloween from Paraguay!

Fast Paraguayan Fun Fact: Paraguay, as a country still trying to figure out its identity, has a shit-ton of random holidays...things like Kid's Day and Youth's Day and Friendship Day and Spring Day. "JB, people in the USA celebrate the first day of Spring, too...or at least mark it in passing." Yeah, but you don't see big banners put up across streets and decorations hung from lamp posts and lunch specials and people exchanging gifts and talking about "what I'm doing for Spring Day." It's like they're starved for things to celebrate.

So, it's not all that surprising when they borrow an American-style Halloween, too, though it's really not the same (this is one of those countries where everyone has big walls, no yards, and prominent razor wire...not the inviting household for trick-or-treaters...plus, see earlier posts regarding the perils of being a pedestrian in Asuncion). Still, my boy's preschool did a costume day ("no scary masks, please") and my wife, as is her usual thing, was up till three in the morning putting the finishing touches on it:

Robin assumes control of the Justice League.
That's my boy...the only one in the room who didn't have a store bought costume. You might not be able to tell, but the variety of suits on the rack was a little lacking. Superman, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider Man, and Buzz Lightyear for boys; Princess, Minnie Mouse, or Witch for girls. No female superheroes, no Star Wars, no monsters... No monsters?! Paraguayans don't do spicy food, and they don't do monster masks.

[but boy o boy do they LOVE candy!]

Diego wanted to be Robin after his Papa was dressed as Robin for a costume party a couple weeks ago. Why was Papa dressed as Robin? Because D loves to dress up as (and pretend to be/play) Batman, and he insists Papa play Robin. A 40-year old Boy Wonder with paunch and thinning hair. I'm always Robin...others in our house might be Superman or Supergirl or Wonder Woman or Batgirl (this was Mama's costume) or Green Lantern or Flash or whoever. JB never rates higher than "sidekick."

[when D was on his Iron Man kick for awhile, he DID let me play Rhodey to his Tony Stark. I didn't bother explaining I'm the wrong color...I was just happy to get a break from Robin]

Anyway, ever since since D saw me in my outfit (again, crafted by my wife), he's moved his obsession to Robin. Thus the new costume.

'Course it's only ONE of his costumes. In addition to dressing up as Batman or Aquaman (his two favorite superheroes) or Superman, D also enjoys dressing as a police officer, firefighter, pirate, or (most recently) a caballero (knight). In fact, we kit-bashed a knight costume for him from a bunch of plastic play-gear and this is what he plans on wearing when he goes trick-or-treating on Sunday (yes, that's November 2nd. It's even in a different neighborhood...well, really a gated cul-de-sac...that we have to drive to). My son loves to dress up and pretend and my wife and I support him in this, probably because we enjoy doing the same. We've often gone to absurd lengths to make our own Halloween costumes (especially my wife).

And yet, we only do this one time a year. We don't do conventions or ren fairs or cosplay. Heck, my wife doesn't even game, and I've never been one to LARP. It's kind of crazy...like we won't admit (or buy into) our deeper impulse to dress up and pretend except at socially acceptable times (like Halloween). I'm sure my love of "pretending" is what led me to pursue a degree in performing arts (acting). 'Course the last show I was in was...what, 2007? 2005? Certainly it's been a while since I got to put on a wig and costume for an "extended engagement."

Well, it is what it is. Perhaps the wife and I will start doing more costume events when we get back to Seattle, now that it's as much fun (if not more so) for our child. M is already in the process of making a "Wonder Woman" outfit for our six month old, though I'm seriously doubtful it'll be ready by Sunday. The question arises, "what IS such a costume for?" I honestly have no idea...it's my wife's thing. Far be it from me to rain on her creative expression.
; )

Got to go...hope everyone's has a happy one!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Considering Witches

Didn't have much time yesterday (don't have much time today, either). I'm still considering what would be the "set spell lists" or even the choice of "schools" should I go that route (as discussed a couple days ago). In other words, haven't made any progress on dismantling the magic system already written for the new fantasy heartbreaker.

Maybe it's because (subconsciously?) I think it's a bad idea? Maybe.

But flavor...I like flavor. Flavor is important. It makes a game tasty. Without flavor, you might have a robust game system, chock-full of nutritious, caloric-value (just to carry an analogy too far), but I want more than that. I'm not trying to create Hero System: Fantasy or GURPS: Wizards or something. Too bland for my taste. The idea of different schools of magic is flavorful.

Anyhoo...part of the reason I didn't do any work/writing yesterday is that I was again perusing old Dragon magazines. In this case, I was reading every article I could find on witches and witchcraft (for those who're curious that includes issues #5, #20, #43, and #114). I didn't have access to these issues back when I wrote up a "B/X Witch" for The Complete B/X Adventurer...but even if I had, I'm not sure I would've used much of the stuff here.  Certainly not the gemstone level titles (a little too Amway-esque)...not sure where that idea came from. Maybe some of the more interesting NPC spells from issue #5; some of those are pretty cool.

[strange there's no author attached to that article. Wonder if anyone ever figured out the writer]

The point is, maybe because it's so close to Halloween, I've got witches on the mind. I dig the concept of witch mythology (the fantasy witch if you will) - both good and bad - and wouldn't mind seeing something witch-like in the new heartbreaker. The problem is, how to do it without being offensive to folks. 

I remember Long's book with much fondness.
Modern witches, for those who don't know, are very different from the critters you find in classic fantasy literature... whether you're talking The Wizard of Oz or Narnia or those old school Halloween masterpieces. They're very different from the witches portrayed on television and 21st century film, too...but that's not the kind of witch I'm interested in (the witches of Charmed or whatnot are meant for a  different RPG than D&D and its ilk). Nor am I talking about the Satanic, Black Mass coven-types of B-horror films, either.

For me, "old school" witches are more fun than frightening...even if the bad ones do (on occasion) eat children. From Baba Yaga and The Old Sea Hag to the beautiful Circe or Morgan Le Fey...the solitary witch is what I'm talking about. That chick in the first Conan movie or Glenda of Oz. In many ways, they are the female equivalent of the solitary sorcerer: someone who has removed herself from society (generally, by her own choosing) in order to practice her craft. Perhaps out of the (real medieval) fear of being burned at the stake by one's neighbors.

When these Halloween-y witches get together at all, it's only once a year or every seven years or every century (depending on the story) to celebrate in a big brouhaha (bruja-ha?), otherwise staying out of each other's way unless engaged in some petty rivalry or magical dispute. Apart from these occasional gatherings of celebrated solidarity, these "fantasy witches" are private individuals, opting out of any sort of politics, mundane or magical. Any "Queen of Witches" title is more honorary (or a straight recognition of power) than an actual office to which other witches owe "fealty." I daresay the term might be one designed to poke fun at Earthly feudal titles...the witches are, after all, opting out of standard patriarchal society.

Ah, vinyl. In rotation every Halloween.
Does that all make sense? I'm not trying to be offensive here, I'm talking about a tradition of folklore and fiction. I'm not trying to "perpetuate stereotypes" of witches, I'm talking about enjoying some of those stereotypes in a fun fashion...and a little Grimm-dark fantasy to a fantasy adventure game.

Still, maybe that doesn't fly with some folks. Certainly, I've put my "pulp B/X adventure" game on-hold indefinitely because, no matter how one slices it, any game that includes "savages" (or even "natives") is going to tick someone off. It's borrowing from fiction that was created at a time when Colonialism and white privilege was "okay" (and being packaged and sold to folks of a white privilege persuasion). The pagan persecutions and witch-burnings of earlier centuries was also deemed "okay" at the time, and that is where the majority of our folklore on the subject (with its "wicked witches") comes from. If I do a "for fun" version of witches that buys into that folklore, I may be perpetuating harmful perspectives that some people will apply to real world witches and pagans (both present day and historical).

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

I don't want to offend folks. I don't want to contribute to ignorance. And I don't want to include "disclaimers" in my writing...it wouldn't be a big enough section of the game to warrant such singular treatment (in my opinion), anyway.

Am I making too much out of this? People don't worry how elves or wizards are portrayed in RPGs because we consider these to be fictional creations...magic is considered fictional in general and real life hermetic magicians are considered delusional by most of the population (similarly, no one worries about offending people of the "Jedi Religion"). I don't think dwarves are offensive to little people, as they are based on a fairy race of Norse mythology. But witches...well, a lot of people really  did get tortured and murdered back in the day for their non-Christian beliefs. Real people. And there are plenty of real people today that consider themselves witches, though they don't sport pointy hats and green skin. Making light of the history is a bit like making a game where your intrepid explorers (*ahem*) shoot "savages" (pick a continent). And running with folklore that demonized a particular group of individuals is kind of "making light," no?

Maybe I'M just overly sensitive. But, well, that's what I'm thinking about today. More later, I'm sure.

It's not easy being green.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quick Addendum to Might and Magic

And I mean really quick.

In my last (very early morning) post, I mentioned (briefly) M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne and its skill lists. For those who don't have EPT for reference, here's how it works:

In EPT you receive a handful of skills during character creation that help round out your character. These come in a couple different varieties. First there are background skills, similar to AD&D's "secondary skills" in that they are professional skills with no real game mechanics attached. These include things like butcher, carpenter, and wheelwright, as well as physician, poet, scholar, and slaver.

Actually, some have some mechanical benefits: the assassin-spy-tracker (that's one skill) can hide in shadows, and the alchemist can brew elixirs and poisons, for example. There are a few, but most don't  have more effect then, "Oh, fisherman? You know how to fish." New characters receive a random number of these skills...as few as one, or as many as ten.

In addition, characters receive from two to five professional skills. These come from a list based on the character's class, of which there are only three: warrior, priest, and magic-user. Warrior skills are pretty much weapon proficiencies (spear, axe, crossbow, etc.) but priests and magic-users have a selection that ranges from additional languages to spells. While the starting number of pro skills is random, characters receive an additional skill with every level, so eventually a character can claim all on the list (each list has a dozen or so). The interesting thing is that they must be chosen in order...a warrior can't learn bowman until he's learned crossbow, for example. The most advanced skills cannot be claimed until all the lesser skills have been learned.

Summoning The Vapor of Death. Ooo!
In addition to this, priests and magic-users have a random chance per level of learning bonus spells from one of three separate lists ("groupings"). The spells in these groups are very similar to the ones in OD&D, and they are grouped by power (so Group I spells are the "weakest," though many are still plenty potent). Group III spells cannot be learned until 4th level, but with enough experience, EPT spell-casters can become quite powerful.

Over-all, a very interesting system and very "magical" in feeling. I very much like the "knowledge needs to be built on knowledge" attitude of the professional skills. The random bonus spells are appropriate for a campaign setting that features psychic abilities (and the, perhaps, spontaneous development of such abilities), but probably doesn't make much sense for my current project.

Ok...got to go. More later (I hope!).

Might and Magic (Part 2)

[continued from here]

People may notice that the list of blogs listed in the sidebar include a random sampling of non-active blogs that probably need to be deleted...and perhaps someday they will, if I ever get around to getting active on Patreon (and want to make blog listing a "reward" for some level of support). However, I still hold out hope that these might "fire up" again, at some point in the future. And sometimes, I still reference them for their old posts.

Such is the case with long dead Grognardia. As I wrote in Part 1, I was up till the wee hours combing through old (digital) copies of The Dragon, and I was using some of James's old posts to add a bit of additional perspective. Just in random passing, I came across this old post of his and (especially in view of my recent thoughts, dissatisfaction with magic-users as is/was) it reminded me of something. I hate the lumping of spell-casters into one or (at most) two types "magic paradigm."

See my post on this back in 2010. At the time, I was working on The Complete B/X Adventurer (man, THAT has been selling like hotcakes the last two months, just by the way) and in an effort to add more content to a skinny book, decided to throw in some different types of spell-casting classes. I ended up with five total (gnomes, mystics, summoners, tattoo mages, and witches), each with their own variant form of magic...not just "magic-users with different spell lists," but completely different approaches to the form and function of magic. The bee in my bonnet (at the time) was this idea that isn't it Goddamn boring to have everything simply be arcane or divine?

Let me answer that: Yes. Yes it is.

This is the reason you don't find illusionists in D&D after 1st edition (at least, not as a core class). First, ya' fold all their spells under a heading called "arcane," then you say:

"Hey, if you want to specialize in illusion magic, pick illusion spells."

Much as I want a certain cosmology in my game world, I don't want a unified field theory of magic.

[hmm...I say this after already creating a brand-new variant magic system for the current project consisting of a single list of spells: the Forty Magnificent Marvels. Sigh...back to the drawing board...again]

I like the idea of different magical schools, each dedicated to a different brand of enchantment. Fire mages, necromancers, druids, etc. It's not a terribly original concept, I realize: I believe I first saw this kind of paradigm circa 1983 with DragonQuest (I created a stone giant who was a member of the Earth Magic college...sadly, we never had the chance to do more than chargen that day...). Ars Magica does a little of this, too, and I've used the concept a couple times in past FHBs I was developing ("LORE," which I briefly mentioned before, had some of this). The original WHFRP had demonologists, necromancers, battle mages, etc. each with their own separate spell list, skills, and (in some cases) horrifying drawbacks.

I dig this...it has a very old school (please, PLEASE forgive the use of that term!) pulp fantasy vibe. Like the rival wizard guilds in a Leiber story trying to show off why their magic is supreme (shades of 70's Hong Kong flicks with feuding martial art schools). Heck, it's the kind of thing that could work well with the concept of "wizard duels." Forget counter-spells: an illusionist doesn't know the first thing about countering a fire mage's spell. But create a mechanic to simulate dueling, and you can still have two mages of different backgrounds duking it out.

Now that I think of it, this is a big part of why I dug Magic Cards, waaaay back: the idea that you were a Red Mage or a Blue Mage or whatever, and the deck represented your spell book. I always liked working with a "theme;" but then, I've long been one of those people that prefer the fluff of a game over practical application (often to my detriment). Hmm...now that reminds me of the Rankin-Bass film Flight of Dragons with its different colored "wizard brothers."

Of course, that just reminds me of Tolkien (again) with its grey, white, brown, and blue wizards...and weren't Frank Baum's witches color-coded as well? Differing magic by color has a long and distinguished tradition, I suppose...

*ahem*

And to tie this back to the last post... One thing I was considering (just an idea, mind you), is providing more static spell lists for magicians. Limiting them (I suppose you'd say) rather than throwing this huge list of spells at players, only to have them (mostly) choose the same spells over and over. There would be some variation, of course (just as fighters get to choose what weapons they want to carry), and perhaps different lists depending on theme (a druid style list versus the illusionist, for example). Magicians would still acquire effectiveness with experience, though perhaps not so much a greater repertoire of spells. And the spells that would be gained (with increase in level) would be equally limited...something akin to Barker's EPT (1st edition) skill trees, building on knowledge already known.

No necromancers, though...otherwise everyone wants to be one.

The trade-off here...or, rather, what would be gained...would be an increased effectiveness from the get-go. Your magician (or pyromancer or whatever), would have a number of spells at his or her disposal right from 1st level...perhaps the equivalent (in D&D terms) of seven or eight spells ranging in magnitude of 1st through 3rd level. Something fairly equivalent to Gandalf, in other words. None of these would be over-powering, "game changing" sort (unless applied in creative fashion)...most would be of the "utility" type (said utility being determined by the school or "theme" of magic).

Anyway, just an idea I have...I'll see if I can work up some sample lists in the next couple days and post 'em to the blog. I have a strong suspicion that long-time players of the MU class in D&D might hate-hate-hate this concept for a number of reasons: it undermines the work they've put into mastering spell lists, it reduces the choices/options they have, it penalizes the creative strategies they've developed over years of play, it doesn't have the same feel as Vancian D&D, etc. And if folks DO raise these objections, I say: FINE. Go play D&D.

Take your 1st level sleep bomber or charm personer with your bandolier of throwing knives and go play D&D. Pick your edition...it's all the same (except that recent ones let you shoot lasers...um, "cantrips"...just like Harry Potter). Go skulk behind the fighters and clerics for umpteen game sessions until you've acquired enough points that you can be effective. Go do it...I'm not going to stop you! And when you've reached the lofty level where you outclass the non-spell-casters and there's the potential threat of grumbling, you can always incorporate feats and maneuvers and weapon specialization and be a merry band spending an entire game session on a single battle that will be a challenge for your immensely talented party.

That's one way to play (and a time honored one, to be sure). I'm just trying to work on a different way: one that appeals to me. I'm a guy who doesn't play magic-users...like never ever ever. And not because I don't like magic or something. I love stories of wizards and sorcerers and magicians and witches (well, most such stories...sorry, Ms. Rowling). Gandalf is a personal favorite...in fact, I lied! I did...once...play a wizard in 3rd Edition, and I modeled the character on Gandalf, right down to taking Martial Weapon Proficiency: Sword.

[I believe I related this story in the past? We couldn't get past the first obstacle in the adventure because I, as the party wizard, had not taken the "correct" spells. 'What do you mean you don't have fly? You're seventh level!' The DM, folded the adventure in disgust and our session ended. It was the last time I've ever played a straight wizard PC]

I don't like magic-users in D&D. I don't like the way they're conceptualized, I don't like their mechanics, I don't particularly like their steep power curve (and I'm a person that likes power!). So, I want to make a magician class that I'd like to play. That's all this is, folks.
: )

Monday, October 27, 2014

Might and Magic (Part 1)

I have so many different ideas for blog posts I want to get up, I feel a little stymied in where to start. But I guess I better do something...here goes:

I was up till...oh...2:30 or something in the morning reading the first twelve issues of Dragon magazine (at the time called simply, The Dragon). I went looking for a particular article, which then led me to another, thence to another, and so on until I finally just said, 'whatever...I'll just read the first twelve issues and see where it takes me.'

Minus the fiction, of course...boy, there was a LOT of fiction back in those days. Much more than what I remember back in the mid-late 80s (when I first started reading Dragon). Anyway, the main article of interest for purposes of this post is Bill Seligman's March '77 essay, "Gandalf was only a fifth level magic-user," found in The Dragon #5.

I love this article...perhaps not the way it is written (though the point here is not to critique Mr. Seligman), but the concept. That is, the idea the man is trying to express. The point (for those who don't have access to this particular issue) is that the abilities displayed by Gandalf throughout both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy can be modeled in OD&D (the only edition at the time) with the stats of a 5th level magic-user. That is to say, the majority of magic Gandalf displays in the text can be mimicked using existing 1st and 2nd level spells (or slight variations) with only the occasional use of a 3rd level lightning bolt spell...though the author points out the latter could possibly be explained by Gandalf's use of Narya the Great.

Seligman also states that Sauron's displays of magic can be modeled with a 7th or 8th level caster's ability (or 12th level "if you're going to be nasty" and allow that he has the control weather spell). Personally, I'd say that Sauron is at least 11th level in D&D terms, given his ability to manufacture magic items (like, ahem, magic rings).

As I said, I really like this. For one thing, if you look at the Tolkien books as adventure guides, you can see just how much is possible with a 5th level Magic-User carrying a bunch of utility spells and one (maybe two) "blasting" type dweomers. Gandalf is no slouch as an adventurer, being quite clever and not reliant on his magical abilities. It helps, of course, that he carries a sword like Glamdring (presumably the sword-equivalent of something like the dagger +1, +2 vs. goblins or similar)...but I've seen plenty of low-level (and not so low-level) magic-users that would be skulking around the back of the party, even with such a blade. Clever and yet bold: this is the kind of character I'd like to see in my own games...but herein lies the problem.

Being 5th level means needing an umbrella.
Gandalf is a very cool character in literature, but how does one get to him in the game? If he starts at 1st level (with only the capability of casting a single spell), he's certainly not going to resemble "Gandalf." More like a very raw apprentice...and one who tires quickly (blows his wad with a single spell-casting). Of course, if he survives to level up (probably by ducking and skulking), you'll get there eventually...and then you'll pass that "Gandalf level" rather quickly and soar into the stratosphere of magical power: polymorphing Nazgul into rabbits, conjuring walls of fire and stone to shore up Minas Tirith, and teleporting back to the Shire as necessary.

Just not quite right.

["JB! D&D isn't Tolkien!" Got it...just bear with me, ok?]

The problem (or, more accurately, MY problem) is that D&D is too slow to get to (what I consider to be) a competent level of magic, is too quick to ascend to lofty superhero levels of power, and too focused on combat, in general...the latter due to the nature of the game.

[plus, not enough geezers (though I recognize that may not be everyone's style)]

That all counts as ONE problem, by the way...it's a problem of granularity that doesn't really exist in the other classes. Characters increase in effectiveness doesn't jump in the same leaps and bounds as other classes...the differences between a 1st level fighter and 5th level fighter are very minimal compared to the difference between a 1st level (raw apprentice) MU and a 5th level "Gandalf." The gulf between the 5th level Gandalf and the 12th level Sauron is gigantic, which is a good thing....until you consider that it's not so terribly hard to advance from 5th to 12th level. Certainly it doesn't take thousands of years (considering the age, experience, and power of Tolkien's "Big Bad Guy") of game time...depending on the amount of playtime, the generosity of the DM, and the skill of the party, and the particular edition being played, a player could reasonably expect to reach 12th level within one to three years of play. I know 3rd edition shot for about one level gained per month (assuming weekly sessions). That is a fast, fast road to power.

How to rectify that?

Much as I liked the essay about Gandalf being "only" 5th level, there IS a part of me that says "how weak sauce!" when you know that it doesn't take that much effort to get to (and beyond) 5th level. Hey, Old Man: he who falls behind gets left behind, ya' know?

Okay, that's one thing I want to talk about...the article made me consider that Vancian magic isn't that terrible as put forward in the original LBBs. But there's tweaking that needs to happen with the advancement dynamic of the wizardly class to get to what I want to see. That and I think I'd like to restrict the variety of spells available to the mage...even more than I've already planned for my "basic" game.

But that has to do with a different issue that I'll be discussing in Part 2.
; )

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Heroic Smack Talk

Back in August, the Prismatic DM posted a neat idea about modeling the dramatic "throw down" in your B/X or LL game. It reminded me of my old blog post on vows, but with a more immediate, impactful effect on game play. Which is (in my mind) better...because it's something that can be practically implemented by player choice, rather than waiting for the DM to "set something up."

Anyway, cool as it was I wasn't 100% down with the mechanics of the maneuver, and I hadn't given it much additional thought until I was posting yesterday's entry on Eowyn. I said I wanted to model the same type of Eowyn-Nazgul interaction in the new heartbreaker, and I've already got a couple systems that will work (in aid of) that goal, but I really don't have anything for the "throw down" or heroic smack talk (as I like to call it) in place.

Not that what Eowyn does is really a challenge. In B/X terms, it's more of a standard negotiation (reaction check) kind of maneuver. "Hey, leave my dead uncle alone, huh? I don't want to fight over this." But the character blows the reaction roll and the fight's on. Not that Eowyn has a low Charisma, but there's probably a penalty involved here given the overall circumstances.

Usually, smack talk is made to ENCOURAGE a fight. Unlike the B/X reaction check, where combat only results due to a low roll, there are times in heroic fiction when a person is actively trying to entice an individual to battle. That's the kind of "smack talk" I'm talking about. And while it may not apply to Eowyn's case, as she was trying to discourage a fight, there are times when one might want to go the other way.

SO...I offer two slightly different game mechanics for your perusal. Both should be compatible with B/X. I call them The Goad and The Challenge.

The goad is what you use to encourage a fight with a lesser opponent. This is the classic dun moch maneuver of Star Wars (when Dooku or Vader taunts some lesser Jedi into a fight). This is Rage getting Armor all riled up so that he loses his cool in combat. The goad issues a challenge to the weaker opponent (a character of lesser HD/level), calling into question the character's courage and saying, "Here, come get me. Heck, I'll make it easy for you."

To goad an opponent, the person goading (called "the antagonist") rolls 2D6 using their Charisma reaction modifier. The result of the goad (which must be done prior to initiating combat) is determined by consulting the following table:
  • 2 or less: the target is immune to the goad (or future goads); if the target of the goad chooses to fight anyway, she receives a +1 bonus to attack rolls against her antagonist, who receives no benefits.
  • 3 to 5: the target is immune to the goad and future goads from this antagonist.
  • 6 to 8: the goad has no effect; the target may choose whether or not to fight; if the target chooses to fight, treat this result as a 9 to 11 instead.
  • 9 to 11: the goaded target must fight, receiving a +1 bonus to attack rolls (the antagonist leaves himself open, inviting the attack). However, anytime the goaded target misses an attack, the antagonist immediately receives a bonus attack against the target. The effects of the goad continue until the goaded target receives an attack that inflicts maximum damage.
  • 12 or more: as the 9 to 11 result except that the target is goaded into attacking recklessly, suffering a -2 penalty to all attack rolls instead of receiving a +1 bonus.
How's that? Individuals more than four HD/level lower than the antagonist should be immune to a goad attack (assuming they have an accurate gauge of the antagonist), as should ALL 1st level characters. You don't want the neighborhood ogre calling out newly minted adventurers!

Different tactic from Eowyn.
Now a challenge is similar to a goad, but here the the challenger is calling out someone of equal or greater HD/level. The challenger rolls a 2D6, again modified by any Charisma reaction modifier (how lordly/intimidating is the challenge?). The result of the challenge depends on the result of the die roll:

  • 2 or less: the target is immune to the challenge (or future challenges from this source); if he chooses to fight he receives a +1 attack bonus against the challenger (the challenger receiving no benefits).
  • 3 to 5: the target is immune to the challenge and future challenges from this person
  • 6 to 8: the challenge has no effect; if the target chooses to fight treat this result as a 9 to 11 instead.
  • 9 to 11: the target accepts the challenge (i.e. the target must fight); the challenger receives a +2 attack bonus and a bonus die of hit points (rolled immediately) for the duration of the fight.
  • 12 or more: as a 9 to 11 result except that the target of the challenge fights at a -2 penalty to all attacks, as he seeks to prove his greater skill "playing" with the challenger.

Issuing a challenge can really give the edge to someone of equal level, and so DMs may wish to limit the bonus effects only to targets that are of actual greater HD/level than the challenger, though a successful challenge (9+) should still entice the target to fight...a result of 12 or greater, should force the target to make a morale check or surrender to the challenger. Again, this is only for challenged targets of HD/level equal to the challenger.

It should probably go without saying that only sentient creatures (and only those with the ability to mutually communicate) can issue or accept goads and challenges.

I suppose that some negotiations, like the one between our friends Eowyn and the Witch-King, have an implicit challenge within them...a do this, or else kind of negotiation. With this type of system, you really can't mix and match...a challenge is something designed to provoke someone to battle...which is not at all what Eowyn was trying to do. She was attempting to back off the Nazgul: a "Get thee hence, demon!" kind of thing. In many ways, this is the equivalent of a turning attempt...and perhaps it should be modeled as such and not limited to clerics/undead (think Gandalf vs. the balrog: "You shall not pass!").

Hmmm...that may be fodder for another blog post.
; )

Okay, that's enough for now; I've got a baby to attend to and coffee to brew (not necessarily in that order). I will say that I want to return to the concept of "vows" sometime this week. But, yeah...got to go now (hold on, bebecita!)...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Eowyn

Long before I ever started this blog, probably shortly before (or, more likely, shortly after) I discovered The Forge and became really interested in the nuts and bolts of game design, I tried my hand at creating a system for a new fantasy RPG...one very different from B/X or D&D.

In fact, I'm going to say it was before I discovered "indie game design" because that was about 2005, and this was an idea I came up with when traveling in Canada with my wife back in the early 2000s...maybe even before we got married (which was in 2000). Whew...a loooong time ago.

This game idea was called "LORE" (which was an acronym for something, though I can't remember exactly what), and I can't seem to find the docs that had my notes...they're probably on some old zip drive back in Seattle. Anyway, back in those days, my main objective was to make sure that character creation could model various (fantasy) literary personalities (Conan, Elric, etc.) from the get-go without needing to wade through a bunch of "low levels" to become a proficient character. And the main literary person I used to model the LORE system was Tolkien's character, Eowyn.

This pic is too small.
Eowyn is one of my favorite characters from literature...at least as far as bit parts go. I dig most everything about her; I identify with many things about her. I think many people do: for most of us there have been times that we've been underestimated in our lives or frustrated at the pull between doing one's duty and doing what we want to do. Those who are younger siblings may have felt the pang of being told we need to "stay home" while the older sibling goes off to do something we want to do...and older siblings (like myself) have felt the guilt of not being "responsible enough" (even when our rebellion is only within our own minds). There are some archetypal emotions at work here.

But, mainly I like Eowyn because she kicks ass. This is the equivalent of an unblooded, 1st level fighter...and yet she's not afraid to talk smack to the Lord of the Nazgul. And then she backs it up by killing off his evil dinosaur mount, going toe-to-toe with the guy, and sticking her sword betwixt his eyes. Eowyn is pretty badass...at least in Tolkien's book.

There's no crying in battle!
I am on record as saying I received immense enjoyment from the Peter Jackson LotR films, and that I feel they do an excellent job of staying true to their source material (if you own/watch the Extended Version DVDs...which I do). But while I really, really, REALLY like Miranda Otto in the role of Eowyn, and find her interpretation of the character quite good (along with Jackson's writing, she really helps fill out and bring life to a literary character), I pretty much HATE the direction/depiction of her climactic scene on the Pelennor Fields. What is this: cowering? Is she going to cry or something? And the cheap way she delivers the line, "I am no man" after the Witch-King is already on his knees? What the hell is that? Kicking an enemy when he's down?

The scene in the book shows a stronger, confident character. First off, she calls out the bad guy right from the beginning...she gives him a chance to back off, and lays all the cards on the table, long before the first clash of battle...even before drawing her sword. But here...I'll quote the text, and you tell me what sounds better:
"Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!" 
A cold voice answered: "Come not between the Nazgul nd his prey. Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where they flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye." 
A sword rang as it was drawn. "Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may."
"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!" 
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."
[see what I'm talking about? this isn't some chica who's in over her head, backed into a corner and just trying to make a stand. She's just as proud and lordly as Aragorn or Theoden or Boromir or any of them. Except, of course, she actually kills something bigger than an orc. She can talk the talk AND walk the walk]
The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry's fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood she whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy's eyes...
...Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Eowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
Still she did not blench: maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair but terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away. A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise. 
Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.
[a few things to notice, here. One is the constant attention Tolkien pays to the Witch-King's eyes, for (aside from the crown floating above his head), nothing other part of the creature's head is visible. This is starkly different from the "empty helmet" (and hollow eyes) of Jackson. Then there's the potency of the Nazgul. In Tolkien's prose there's only two hits: "Me hitting you, you hitting the floor." Jackson's Nazgul swings his ridiculously over-sized flail no less than seven times before finally connecting with Eowyn's shield. It looks silly on screen (again, I say this as a fan of the film trilogy), making a battle between two champions look like...I don't know...a cheesy Kevin Costner-style fight scene. It makes me wince to watch the thing]
But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry's sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee. 
"Eowyn! Eowyn!" cried Merry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Eowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.
See, there's no clever repartee from Eowyn once the fight starts...just business. She's "all in" before the Nazgul even decides she's worth his attention (I cut out the bits where he ignores the hobbit for a worm writhing in the mud). It's a classic scene of fantasy literature, that makes me dig the character much more than the weak-sauce portrayal in Jackson's film. This is why I still love those Rankin-Bass  films...in addition to their beautiful animation, they adhere as closely to the text as they can while still being edited for time constraints.

Check out the video here. The dialogue and sequence is near word-for-word perfect.

Anyhoo, LORE of course was never completed, nor even developed to a point suitable for play-testing. But the idea of building a game capable of creating an "Eowyn-like" character is still something in which I'm interested. It's something I'm paying attention to as I work on the new heartbreaker (though, as magic is more prominent, it's unlikely I'll really get there. Hey, it's not supposed to be a LotR role-playing game!).

Just a couple more notes (I know this post is getting long):

Interesting that in Chainmail the Wraith figure can only be slain by another "fantasy character," like the Hero or Super Hero. I suppose Eowyn fits the bill as a "Hero" (she's certainly not the Super Heroic "Conan archetype"), which means she can slay a Nazgul on a 2D6 roll of 12. A pretty legendary task to be sure.

Second, in B/X both wraiths and (the more Nazgul appropriate) spectres are immune to normal weapons, so Eowyn wouldn't have been able to harm them anyway (though, of course, in B/X such creatures don't wield physical weapons, as they certainly do throughout Tolkien's books. Yes, I know, I know...there's a big difference between literature and RPGs. But I'm talking modeling, here, and many features of D&D were modeled after Tolkien's work). Eowyn isn't really an adventurer either (though perhaps she'd like to be one) and might be better modeled by Moldvay's NPC monster, the Noble:
"Noble" is a general term for the lord of a castle and any of his or her relatives.
The noble is is a three hit dice monster with AC 2 (presumably plate & shield) and damage of 1D8 (or per weapon). This would certainly be a good model for Theoden in B/X and probably both Eomer and Eowyn. But I'm just saying...

"Come get some, dwimmerlaik!"