27 January 2012

Magical Mystara - How Spellcasting Works in the Five Spheres Cosmology

Referring back to my post about adjusting clerics and in game religion to the five spheres cosmology (FSC) Frank introduced in the Master and Immortal rules, I was thinking over some general ideas about how the different magic using classes approach their spellcraft, and how it fits into the FSC. None of this has any real impact on game play, it's just a little in character flavor to make the characters something more than a checklist of available spells.

The only optional "rule" I'd consider in regard to all of this is maybe requiring an INT/WIS check (whichever is applicable) for one type of arcane or divine caster to learn spells from a caster of a different type. Arcane casters cannot learn Divine spells at all, and vice versa, but making the subtle differences in how magic users, elves and wiccas approach magic, for example, come into play with a fairly easy ability check once in a while might make the setting a little more interesting.

Arcane Caster Types
Magic Users - Whether they actively participate in the "religion" of the sphere or not, most magic users relate to the sphere of thought closely. Their approach to magic is an esoteric mix of math, science, allegory and symbolism, and obscure knowledge that allows them to start to understand how the multiverse operates. By subtly manipulating aspects of all five of the spheres, they begin to be able to cause real changes in reality that manifest as spells. Though some of their rituals may resemble religious ceremony or dogma, there is really nothing spiritual or divine about how a magic user invokes her magic.

Elves (and creatures like dragons with innate spell casting talents) - Some creatures are literally born magical, the balance of the five spheres that results in mundane life is slightly tweaked in one way or another in these creatures, sometimes giving them the ability to use spell like powers without having to learn, memorize, or cast them in a normal fashion. Elves are a special case, existing on a figurative border between the real, balanced realm of Mystara and the mysterious and magical world of Faerie. While elves are blessed with an innate magic that aids them in quickly understanding how to use spells, they still have to learn those magics like humans do. Elven magical lore is not quite as technical or mathematical as that of humans, and borrows some concepts that seem to derive from druids or shamans.

Wiccas - Wiccas tend to hail from cultures and societies that are a little more primitive, relatively speaking, than the human standard. Rather than science and mathematics forming a strong part of their approach to magic, they focus much more on the symbolism, allegory and simple practical application of magic. Proper magic users claim that this simple, undisciplined approach is why wiccas are incapable of mastering the advanced, high powered magic that high level wizards can, but most wiccas would respond that such magics are frivilous and not worth the effort anyway.

One quick note about the use of the term Wicca. For whatever reason, this is the term the Classic D&D designers of the 1980s chose to assign to hedge mages, tribal wizards and other "minor" users of arcane magic. In the context of the D&D rules and the Mystara setting, absolutely no connection to the religion philosophy of the same name in the real world is implied or intended.

Divine Caster Types
Clerics - While most clerics have at least a rudimentary understanding and acceptance of the FSC, they choose a unique way of invoking magic from it. Rather than learn to influence things themselves, clerics form a pact of sorts with a being or beings of Immortal existence, in which their devotion and service to the agenda of those beings is rewarded with the ability to channel a small portion of the divine power of their patrons. Some clerics are narrowly focused and only directly serve one Immortal, or a small selection of allied Immortals, while others serve the will of all the Immortals of one sphere, or those of all spheres equally, but there is no difference in the manifestation of clerical powers which of these paths they choose.

Druids - Druids view nature and reality as a delicate balance of all five spheres, and through this understanding, they learn to subtly tweak that balance in order to invoke their magic. Most druids are careful never to push things too far and upset the natural order, and will often spend time in meditation and contemplation before acting to avoid any unwanted side effects.

Shamans - Shamanic magic is similar to that of clerics, in that their power derives from other entities. Rather than distant Immortals, however, shamans look to the natural spirits around them; dead ancestors, the essence of living and non-living natural things, and so on. Also, rather than channel the power of these spirits directly, as clerics do, the shaman's service to the spirits is rewarded by the spirits basically creating magical effects for them. Clerics claim that the inferiority of these spirits to true Immortals is the reason for the somewhat weaker nature of shamanic magic, but most shamans and the spirits they serve find this attitude pretty insulting.

Non-Standard Caster Types
These two "classes" are archetypes I plan to address in relation to the Classic D&D game in the near future, but they are included here mainly to help players of other editions of the game that use these class types to make use of these ideas.

Bards - Bards in the usual AD&D sense are essentially jacks of all trades, dabbling in many arts but mastering none. Their music and dance are honestly just a gimmick, and not really tied to how the class approached magic. These bard types generally fall into the magic user or wicca mindset when practicing magic.

Some campaigns, such as those based around Monte Cook's Book of Eldritch Might series, treat bards more as song mages, whose magical powers are directly related to their music. These characters develop a deep understanding of the spheres of thought and energy, and how those two spheres interact. Through the symbolism and allegory of their lyrics, and the mystical energy of the notes and harmony of their music, they are able to manifest minor magical powers.

Psions - Psionics isn't generally considered magic, but it operates in a similar fashion. The psion becomes a master of the concepts of the sphere of thought, especially in regard to how that sphere can influence and manipulate the spheres of matter and energy. Through sheer exertion of mental force, the psion can evoke mystical effects that sometimes mimic magic.

17 January 2012

Some of my favorite Mystara products

I recently purchased the Mystara Dungeon Master's Survival Kit and Player's Survival Kit.

I absolutely love these! While they aren't in any way required to get a complete view of the setting, the collection of props, "hand drawn" style maps, blank journal pages and other goodies they included are wonderful for setting the mood of the gaming session. I don't know if they were ever released as PDFs from RPGNow or Paizo store, but I plan to scan a bunch of the stuff in mine so I can customize them a little bit to remove any references to AD&D rules, and print out the pages as needed.

Other products from AD&D, like the Deck of Priest Spells, Deck of Wizard Spells, Deck of Magic Items, the different Class Player Packs, etc. have a similar value to me for their use as at the table props and mood-setters. None of it's required to play the game, but these are the kind of things I'd like to see more of from publishers.

Like I said earlier in regard to scanning and printing, a lot of this kind of thing can be done much more easily and less costly with PDF distribution, since the majority of the product is just "forms" and "handout" pages. Any OSR publishers listening?

I love minis too, but mine honestly end up decorating the bookshelf and desk more than they see use in play. While minis and some of the really amazing scenery pieces you can get now do help visualize combat, Classic D&D combat isn't that technical anyway, and sometimes I feel like minis slow things down and turn the focus of play away from narrative and story and back toward actual game play, if you know what I mean.

How do you guys feel about fluff/prop products like these?

16 January 2012

Classic D&D variant: Firearms

I've been talking a lot about Portown and the Sea of Dread lately, and to many people, that means pirates. The Hin of the Five Shires, as well as many of their human neighbors, are responsible for a lot of piracy on the waters of the Sea of Dread, and an entire culture has sprung up around the setting's less than scrupulous sailors.

To a lot of people, pirates means guns. Cannons and muskets are an integral part of the genre. To allow the option of firearms in a pirate themed game, I came up with the following quick conversion of the rules from the Freeport: City of Adventure campaign setting (Green Ronin Publishing, 2002):

Firearms are a relatively recent invention, appearing in Portown only about 5 years ago, when a strange gnome named Kolter Mai opened up a smithy and shop in the city. Kolter's "guns" are a mixture of clockwork gears and a strange alchemical substance called smoke powder, which explodes violently when exposed to flame.

The three most readily available weapons from Kolter's Clockworks (the name of his shop, which also sells clocks and clockwork toys) are:

Privateer Pistol - dmg 2d4, same ranges as a short bow
Cost: 500gp
Ammo Cost: 1cp*

Gorgon Musket - dmg 2d6, same ranges as a light crossbow
Cost: 800gp
Ammo Cost: 2cp*

Titan "Swivelgun" (light cannon) - dmg 2d10, same ranges as long bow
Cost: 1200gp
Ammo Cost: 1sp*

Some notes:
Reloading for all of these weapons is a slow process, taking 3 entire rounds. This also means that characters who somehow have more than one attack per round may only make multiple shots if they have more than one loaded firearm.

Aside from the basic cost of the lead ball ammunition used by these weapons, each shot must be accompanied by a charge of smoke powder. These are sold in tea bag sized packets for the pistol and musket, and slightly larger packets for the swivelgun, they cost 1gp and 3gp each, respectively.

Any time a natural 1 is rolled on the d20 to hit roll with one of these weapons, the firearm jams and explodes, causing the full damage of the shot to the person firing it (Save vs. Breath to drop the firearm and take half damage) as well as causing havoc with the clockwork gears. Kolter, or another craftsman trained in firearm maintenance may repair the damage to the clockworks for 1/10th the cost of the weapon.

This is a really quick and dirty conversion of a much more detailed and varied system used in the Freeport setting. I don't plan to make much use of it, but wanted to provide something simple for others to work with in conjunction with Portown and a Pirates of the Sea of Dread campaign.

Culinary Magic!

I always like fun and interesting new magic for the game, things the players least expect. I had some notes on magical food concoctions in my notes, and remembered them while reading about the Chef class in an old issue of Polyhedron magazine. I decided to type up my notes, and convert some of the Chef magic stuff from AD&D to Classic D&D, here's what i came up with.

Miija's Gingersnaps (75 gp for 6 cookies)
The crunchy and tasty cookies, invented by the famous (in the Five Shires, at least) Hin baker Miija Copperkettle, grant the eater the effects of a Haste spell for 1d4 rounds. Attempting to eat more than one per day, however, will cause the eater painful heartburn and debilitating cramps, inflicting 1d4 points of damage that can only be cured by a full night's rest (not even magical healing spells will help).

Druids Bayberry Tea (10 gp per cup)
This rather bitter tasting brew, common among the woodland folk of Alfheim, acts as a mild healing draught and a full cup will heal 1d4 hp of damage. Drinking a full pot (4 cups) will either heal 4d4 hp of damage, or cure any single non-magical disease or posion.

Miija's Peculiar Pepper Sauce (100gp for one bottle, 6 chugs)
Another invention of Miija Copperkettle, this extremely hot blend of chili peppers from around the islands of the Five Shires and Ierendi allows anyone taking a gulp of it to spit forth a gout of flame with a 15 foot range and causing 1d6 points of damage to anything it hits.
The sauce burns its drinker as well, however, causing 1d2 points of damage for every gulp taken. In addition, for each gulp taken beyond the first each day, the drinker must make a Save vs Death with a cumulative -1 penalty or die from choking.

Druid's Basil Cakes (10gp for one tart)
These vile tasting herbal tarts require a successful CON check to eat without gagging and vomiting, but if kept down, they guarantee  success on any one Save vs Petrification within the next 24 hours.

Miija's Elven Carrot Cake (50gp for one cake, 4 slices)
Eating a slice of this sweet treat grants the eater infravision with a 10 foot range for one hour. Repeated consumption of the cake the same day has no effect.

Miija's Amazing Applesauce (30gp for a 12oz jar)
This thick, sweet and slightly chunky apple sauce is not only delicious, it's extremely filling and nourishing. One 12 oz. jarserves as an entire week's worth of rations.

Miija's Potent Peas (5 gp for 12 peas)
Three of these dried peas will create an entire serving of a nourishing, if rather bland tasting, pea soup when placed in a bowl with hot water. One serving satisfies a humanoid of man size or smaller for one day.

Miija's Regiberry Tea ( 20gp per vial, 3 sips)
One sip of this sweet, fruity tea provides the equivalent of an entire days ration of water.

Miija Copperkettle owns and runs a small bakery in Portown, where these items (including the two druidic recipes) may be purchased, but she has also sold her recipes to other bakers who promise not to open a competing shop in Portown, so the DM can have the items turn up at a market or bakery just about anywhere. 
Miija is also constantly on the look out for new and rare ingredients for her culinary creations, and may serve as a minor patron for PCs looking for work.

13 January 2012

People and places of Portown: The Green Dragon Inn

Before discussing the Green Dragon Inn, let me remind everyone that I have been using Green Ronin's Freeport to develop Portown. There are links on that post to some information to get started in Freeport, most importantly, there is this free map. I like this map because it is an unlabeled "player's" map. This has two benefits, first, if you're using Freeport sourcebooks, like I am, it shows the players the city without giving away where all the secrets are, second, if you're not using any Freeport stuff, but like this map to represent Portown, there's no references to a bunch of sites you wont use. It's also printer friendly and uncluttered enough to allow you and or the players to make notes on.

When I introduce a new location in Portown, like the Green Dragon Inn today, I'll post a small snippet of the map, just big enough to show you where I'm talking about. You can can ignore me and move things around anyway you like though!

The Green Dragon Inn
A haven for adventurers in Portown.

Nestled amidst the squallor and chaos of the neighborhood informally known as Scurvytown, the Green Dragon stands out for a simple reason; it's clean! The boardwalk along the front of the place is constantly being swept by the staff, and a plain whitewashed sign proclaims the inn's name in green letters. The front doors of the inn are carved to resemble dragons rampant, and the windows are all constructed of bits of stained glass collected from dilapidated structures around town and arranged in pleasing patterns that give the interior a soft, colorful glow during the day.

Known locally for its good food, adding mainland staples like beef, pork and chicken to the usual seafood fare found around the city, but you'll not often find the city's upper crust dining here, not casually, at least. Since its purchase and remodeling about 20 years ago by a band of adventurers led by the formidable Lord Robilar (Lord is both his "level title" and part of his backstory, below), the Green Dragon has catered exclusively to adventurer types, who are usually flush with gold to spend and eager to hear rumor of the next big adventure awaiting them. A lot of shadier business is conducted here as well, with the would-be well-to-do of Scurvytown seeing the inn as a respectable place to do their, sometimes illicit, business.

The Green Dragon never closes, so at any time of day or night, a wide variety of adventurers and potential patrons can be found here, and DMs may wish to use the place as the local incarnation of the Shady Dragon Inn, to introduce new NPCs, potential hirelings and even rivals and enemies of the PCs. If using that option, the maps of the Shady Dragon, found in the product, can be used to represent the inn's interior. If you don't want to tie the Green Dragon to the Shady Dragon, or don't have access to the Shady Dragon product, a quick online search for "tavern map" will produce many suitable results. The Green Dragon is 3 stories in height, but the third level is comprised only of the private apartments of Lord Robilar and his associates, so a two level tavern/inn map will work just fine. The inn also has a well constructed, "finished" cellar, rumored by many locals to allow access to the sewers and undercity tunnels through concealed (and trapped) doorways.

Meals at the inn are not cheap, often running in the 3 to 5 gold piece range, but the team of Hin cooks, serving girls and barmen Robilar employs provide excellent food and outstanding service, with the ability to adequately fill the regional taste preferences of anyone from the civilized parts of the Known World. Lodging costs 2gp for a bunk in the upper common room (with up to 20 beds available per night), or 10gp a night for a private room and service from Barth, the Hin butler (normal halfling, see basic set "monster" entry, the rest of the staff fits this description as well).

Lord Robilar
16th Level Neutral Male Fighter, str18 int11 wis16 dex18 con16 chr18, HP 89

Robilar is a bit of a mystery around Portown, before he first arrived in the city about 20 years ago, noone in the Known World (or all of Mystara for that matter) had heard his name. To those who piece together the bits of rumors and vague hints from Robilar himself, the story goes something like this.

Robilar hails from a far off realm, possibly another, alternate world entirely. He enjoyed a wild and successful career as an adventurer there, earning vast wealth and power, but things would not end well. Robilar tells a tale of the elder immortals of his world, a group he calls the creater gods, being cast aside and replaced by a debauched and uncouth group of upstart immortals. To achieve their goals of destroying the creator gods and claiming the world for their own, they somehow created a strange demiplane, where undesirable elements could be banished to, being replaced in their world by simulacra intended to maintain an illusion of normalcy and continuity. After many strange and dangerous adventures in the prison demiplane, which Robilar refers to as "bizarro world" (with a grin and a knowing wink, any who know him figure it's best to just play along and pretend to understand), Robilar and his crew escaped, but not back to their world, they arrived in Specularum. After some minor dealings with (then) Duke (now king) Stefan, The group took to adventuring again, eventually winding up in Portown, which they decided to call home until a way back to their world could be found.

Currently, Robilar's company has dwindled to just his friend and hireling Otto (10th Level Neutral Male Magic User) and a rather civilized orc warrior named Quij (5th Level Neutral Orc, see the Orcs of Thar sourcebook). Though they own the inn, the three have little to do with daily operations, preferring to leave things to their Hin staff and simply mingle with their customers, keeping an ear out for rumors that might help them complete their quest to get to their true home. In this manner, Robilar, Otto and Quij may be willing to trade information or even magic with a party of PCs.

Robilar's stats are taken from the 1st edition AD&D product The Rogues Gallery. In that source, his alignment is listed as Lawful Evil, but since Classic D&D doesn't use the 9 alignment model, I made him Neutral. This reflects his description as wild, jaded and given to rather morbid amusements, but still generally loyal and trustworthy to those who approach him fairly and with a bit of caution.

12 January 2012

A Portown Extra: Lemunda the Lovely!

As many readers may know, in the dungeons of Zenopus scenario in the Holmes Basic rules, if the party is lucky, they will discover and rescue Lemunda, who claims to be a daughter of a "powerful lord" of Portown. In keeping with the previous post about adapting Portown to Freeport and Mystara, here's a character write up for Lemunda.

Lemunda "the Lovely" Mirren
Class/Level: Fighter 2
Alignment: Neutral

STR 10
INT 14
WIS 12
DEX 12
CON 15
CHR 17

HP: 7 AC: 7* THAC0: 19 XP: 290
Money: 73gp*

Notes on stats: To be true to the rules, I just rolled these on 3d6 and assigned them in order, except for CHR, where I used a 4d6 drop low die method to bump it up a bit. She is nicknamed "the lovely", after all. 
* if Lemunda is encountered as a prisoner of the pirates in Zenopus's dungeons, she will not have her leather armor, giving her an AC of 9. She will likewise not have any money on her person. These numbers assume she is met in Portown, or nearby, before or soon after her rescue.

Lemunda Mirren is one of many granddaughters of Lenora Mirren (The Pirate's Guide to Freeport, Green Ronin Publishing, 2007),  a moderately wealthy and influential matriarch of Portown. While not nobility, and not involved in any actual running of the city or its guilds, the Mirren clan has contacts and allies throughout Portown society, making them a rather important family in the social circles. Seeking to elevate herself above her sisters and cousins, Lemunda took to a life of adventure and good natured piracy rather early, making a name for herself as a fearless, yet reckless blade for hire.

This life led Lemunda into trouble when she was captured by a small band of pirates with a grudge against her family. She was taken to their hideout in the caves beneath the dungeons of Zenopus, which is where the PCs will encounter her (perhaps a reunion of sorts if they are regulars in town and have met her before in passing) if the DM is using the Dungeons of Zenopus scenario as a campaign chapter.

If the party frees her, they will earn her lasting friendship, and a reward of 250gp from Lenora, her grandmother (far less than the 2000gp ransom the pirates were asking...). If the party meets her after her rescue by another band of adventurers, assuming the DM is not planning to use the Zenopus scenario, they will find her to be a little cocky and arrogant, a result of her upper class upbringing, but fairly friendly. She's eager to get involved in high adventure and earn a name for herself, and might wish to join a party that she sees as flashy and flamboyant enough.

Lemunda usually wears a light but sturdy suit of leather armor under her clothing, which is always a flashy example of the latest Portown fashions, with a dagger or two hidden in her sleeve or boot. If recruited by a party, she'll show up with a normal selection of gear appropriate for a first level fighter.

Portown, Mystara and Freeport?

I was recently reading the sample dungeon in the Holmes edition Basic rulebook, and became intrigued by the idea of placing Portown and its associated dungeons in Mystara. Although the background text states that the city exists to link land trade routes with shipping lanes, I decided to place it on an island, justifying the existence of the pirates found in and around the ruins.

The Five Shires area immediately came to mind, based on the focus on piracy there, and the proximity to shipping lanes in Ierendi, Karameikos, and easy access to the Sea of Dread open waters and the nations beyond. I chose the following island group, as shown on this map clip:

Nothing appears to exist in "canon" detailing this island group, so it seemed open for development.

Then it occured to me, pirates? What about Freeport? For those not familiar with Freeport, it was a mini-setting for the D20 system, consisting of a pirate haven and a couple surrounding islands, meant to be dropped into a larger campaign world.

I plan to simply replace the island group shown on the Mystaran maps with this island cluster, and rename Freeport to Portown (Poor Town or Port Town, cartographers and historians differ on the matter). Freeport could also be a pirate jargon nickname for the town, to confuse authorities.

The group of islands is believed to be the remnants of a larger, volcanic island destroyed ages ago in a violent eruption. With the numerous volcanic islands around Ierendi close by, this isn't too far fetched.

A'val is the largest of the isles, about 4 miles from north to south, and just shy of 2 miles across at its widest spot. Aside from the city of Portown, the island is also dotted with caves, many used as hideouts or lairs by local pirates, and the entire place is said to be riddled with caverns and tunnels, home to a mysterious and wicked race of serpent-men, remnants of a long lost culture that once dominated the region.

Leeward isle is a bit smaller than A'val, just 3 miles in north-south length and barely 1.5 miles at its widest. The main point of interest on this mostly uninhabited place are the ruins of an old potential rival of Portown's, Libertyville. The rocky hill overlooking the ruins of the town was carved long ago, by unknown workers, to resemble a skull, and rumors around Portown claim that among the fools who've tried to revive Libertyville at various times was the little known but mighty in the ways of magic Zenopus. About 50 years ago, watchers stationed at Portown's lighthouse claim that the entire island of Leeward came alive with a fell green glow that lasted a fortnight, and soon, refugees from among Zenopus's servants arrived in Portown, claiming that their master had been destroyed by some evil force he'd discovered and unleashed in the depths of his dungeons. (This replaces the lead in to the sample dungeon scenario in the Holmes rulebook)

Windward island is roughly the same size as Leeward, but its western shores face out to sea that is mostly open for many leagues, creating a rocky, barren coastline. The eastern shores are peaceful stretches of white sandy beach, however, inhabited here and there by small bands of fishermen and crabbers. The largest settlement is a collection of huts centered around a small Inn and Tavern known simply as Felix's. Felix Oliver, the owner, operates a small but lucrative resort business here, catering to the wealthy of Portown and other shady places in the nearby seas. Felix is known for his excellent food, usually buying up the best of the local catch before the rest is taken to Portown for sale. Less known, but perhaps more importantly, Felix has an informal alliance with the Merrow of the waters between the islands, and they often come to his aid if he or the other inhabitants of Windward are threatened.

T'wik is a small island, just a mile long north to south and not even a half mile at its widest. There's not a lot to see or do on T'wik, since it's basically a barren rock, but for centuries, the island has been the site of large bonfires (and, if you go whole hog and use the published Freeport adventure series, a recent attempt to build a lighthouse) used to guide ships to Portown's harbor on stormy or foggy nights.

The only real change I'd make to Freeport to use it as Portown is to increase the proportion of Hin in the population. While most NPCs can keep their assigned race, I'd make a lot more of the commoners and unnamed NPCs Hin.

Due to its location, Portown and the surrounding islands can be a base of operations for pirate or pirate-hunter PCs, or perhaps even a stop along the way to someplace distant...a dinosaur ridden island far to the south, maybe?

Freeport was created and published by Green Ronin Publishing. Some introductory material, including a map of the city can be found at the Freeport section of their website. Scroll down and click on the "Focus on Freeport" link for the goodies after reading the overview. GRP has produced numerous sourcebooks for Freeport, and also licensed other publishers to do so. The GRP website lists a few of these, a search on google will turn up the rest.

Also, if you don't have access to the Holmes edition Basic Rules, Wizards of the Coast has kindly made the Portown/Zenopus scenario available as a free download!

04 January 2012

Clerics and Religion in a Classic D&D Mystara campaign

The Classic D&D game never delved much into the details of a cleric's faith. The basic rules even state the following.

In D&D games, as in real life, people have ethical and theological beliefs. This game does not deal with those beliefs. All characters are assumed to have them, and they do not affect the game. They can be assumed, just as eating, resting and other activities are assumed, and should not become part of the tame.

A Cleric's spell powers come from the strength of the Cleric's beliefs...

 --- Basic Rules, Player's Manual, pg. 24

The DM's book isn't quite as strict.


You may choose to add flavor to your games by adding mythological deities. The characters would be followers of such beings, and a cleric could serve a specific deity. However, all such activities are assumed, and should not influence play or change the rules in any way. No deity would react to the actions of any individual character, nor offer any special help.

The deities of the game characters may be similar to the mythological gods and goddesses of days long past. The ancient Greeks, for example, worshipped many gods; Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, and so forth. According to legend, these gods would grant favors to their worshippers, and that is one way to explain the magic spells a cleric character can cast in the game.

The DM should be careful not to needlessly offend players, and current beliefs should be avoided.

 -- Basic Rules, Dungeon Master's Rulebook, pg. 15

Still not too encouraging, but I keep in mind that this was written in the 1980s, when there was a strong backlash against RPGs and D&D in particular by religious fundamentalists. It was probably prudent to keep any appearance of encouraging "pagan" religions out of the game at that time.

Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to play the game that way, with no real thought given to whom or what a Cleric gets spells from. Especially in a true old school style game where role-play, let's be honest, takes a back seat to hack & slash and traps and dungeon crawling, it doesn't really matter that much.

Some of us prefer a different approach, where some details of the Cleric's faith are presented, to encourage story telling and role playing. Later editions of the game, and the various other settings deal with this in varying degrees of depth, but what about Mystara?

Although Mystara, in its early form as the Known World, dates back to the B/X Expert set, and some of the adventure modules that came before BECMI, Frank Mentzer really began to integrate the setting into the rules, and it's usually considered the default setting for the game. The problem with this is, the setting seems chained to Frank's statement that the gods of the setting should not be detailed, and alas, they are not, at any point.

The Master and Immortal rules introduced options for characters to become Immortals, somewhat god-like beings with abilities far beyond those of mortals. While not quite gods, these beings are the closest thing TSR published for the setting, and various products later on treated various NPC Immortals as the figures of religious worship in Mystara.

That's fine, but there is no real definitive guide to all the Immortals, and while some of the nations and realms, especially those of the Hollow World subsetting, got a pretty treatment in the Immortals department, others got almost none. So we either use the published Immortals and fill in the gaps, or ignore them and use something else, maybe borrowing a pantheon from mythology or from another campaign setting. There's nothing wrong with this at all, and if you favor a certain mythos your game will definitely benefit from using it, but I wanted something a little more unique to Mystara, so I started looking at what I have to work with.

In the D&D game, the first real defining factor in a character's moral and ethical outlook is of course alignment. You could, I suppose, just use the three alignments as the overarching religions of the campaign, but this doesn't give much room for creativity, and leads to the old questions about whether or not all Lawful people act and think the same way. Probably not, if you ask me.

Then it struck me, the five spheres of power! Frank introduced these five basic components of the multiverse to present the various paths a PC can take toward gaining immortality. The Immortals mentioned in other Mystara sources all assign one of the spheres of power to each of them. This gives us five basic religions, one tied to each sphere of power.

The Spheres of Power are not gods though. They are concepts, universal truths that allow an understanding of the multiverse and how things in it work. Through understanding and study beyond the grasp of most of his peers, the Cleric learns how to channel his devotion and knowledge of his sphere of choice into the subtle manipulations of reality that other mortals call divine magic.

But Darva, I hear you asking, that's only 5 options, not a whole lot better than 3, right? Yes, and no. No, because once we have the basic five religions, we can diversify them and flesh them out as much as we want, with Immortals! While not gods, technically, the Immortals serve as saint like figures, epitomizing some aspect of the Sphere's ideals. The PC Cleric's religion is his sphere, but he can belong to a faction or sect that reveres a specific Immortal, if the player wants some more depth and backstory.

This also gives us the chance to meddle with the Immortals the publish material provides. Just because Alphaks is a published Immortal, the Clerics of his sphere (which happens to be Energy) don't need to worship him, and the NPCs the party runs into don't either if you don't want to introduce him. But if some pesky player points out that he's in this or that sourcebook, you can just say "he's not that popular in these parts", and plan some future encounter to satisfy that player's desire to involve him in the campaign. You can also introduce any new Immortals you like, either from your own imagination, or by borrowing deities and demigods from other settings or game systems.

I'll follow up on this with a more detailed post on each sphere, and some of the noteworthy Immortals related to each one, but for now, here's a thumbnail view of each sphere's ideals, and how they relate to each other.

In Mystara, the five sphere's of power are:

A Cleric PC chooses which one to devote himself to, but this does not mean he totally forsakes or disbelieves in the others. The wise understand that all five are key ingredients in the multiverse, and without any one of them, life as it is known on Mystara would not be. The 5 sphere's are represented with a pentacle, like this:

Each of the five points represents one of the spheres, and depicts the traditional rune used as a symbol for that sphere/faith. The kind of cruciform rune in the center symbolizes man (or demi-man) or existence and also designates which direction the pentacle is oriented in. All the spheres are considered equal and no one direction is considered up or down, or superior to the others, the only reason for this calibration feature is the fact that the runes for the spheres can become confusing if turned or inverted. This matters because a Cleric makes the pentacle his holy symbol by orienting it with his sphere of devotion pointing up. This is how Clerics of the different spheres recognize each other.

Here's a quick overview of the five spheres.

Matter: This sphere is related to the element of earch, and represents resilience, stability and longevity. Tradition and ancestry are important to followers of this sphere, as well as birth and growth, where the old matter lost to entropy is seen as being reclaimed and shaped into something new. Matter is tied to the Lawful alignment primarily, and favors fighters and dwarves among the PC classes and race. Matter is opposed to time, energy and entropy.

Energy: Energy is embodied in fire and represents activity, change and imagination. Free thinkers and revolutionaries are often followers of this sphere, as well as those with quick tempers or bad attitudes. Energy is tied to the Chaotic alignment, and favors magic users and elves. Most practitioners of arcane magic pay at least lip service to this sphere and its Immortals. Energy is opposed to matter, thought and time.

Time: This sphere manifests in water, as the running of rivers and tides of the seas are seen as the clocks of the multiverse, eternally ticking off life's fleeting moments. Time encourages change, but change with planning and set goals, as opposed to the chaotic whims of Energy or the destructive forces of entropy. Time is tied to the Neutral Alignment, and favors Halflings. The sphere is opposed to matter, energy and entropy.

Thought: Thought is represented by air, without which there is no life (for most thinking creatures, anyway). The sphere symbolizes learning, philosophy, understanding and truth. Followers of this sphere are curious and yearn for knowledge. Though tied to no alignment, Thought favors the thief class, and is opposed to energy and entropy.

Entropy: Entropy is darkness, chaos and death, and not tied to any physical element, but considered a spirit element that pervades all things, causing disorder, sickness, weakness and death. Disciples of entropy understand, however, that these things are a necessary part of the natural order of things, and are not always evil minded. Entropy favors no PC class above others, but is tied to the Chaotic alignment. Entropy opposes all other spheres.

A note about druids and shamans.

Unlike Clerics, druids revere all five spheres equally, finding truth in the natural world that results from the mingling of all the spheres. To denote this, they usually adopt a featureless pentacle, meant to symbolize the blind equality of each aspect of existence.

Shamans, on the other hand, coming from societies with more primitive (though not necessarily inferior) understandings of the world, do not follow the spheres directly. Instead they gain their spells through worship and reverence of totemic spirits, usually representing animals, plants, landmarks or ancestors important to their people. These totem spirits are treated as Immortals, usually of the matter, time or thought spheres, for all intents and purposes here.

Most commonfolk don't pay much mind to the lofty ideas of spheres and multiversal truths, and will tend to follow a group of Immortals and/or spirits relevant to their location and life.

Just as Clerics of one sphere do not necessarily disbelieve or hate the teachings of the other spheres, most, if not all, churches represent all five spheres. One (or more) may be more dominant in the local dogma than others, but in most cases no follower of any sphere is turned away. Churches also tend to build doctrine heavily around the Immortals of their favored sphere(s).

That sums up the basics, let me know what you think. Like I said, I'll go into each sphere and its followers and Immortals in separate posts in the near future.

I hope it isn't an issue for anyone here, but let me state flat out, the use of the pentacle/pentagram here is for entirely fictitious depiction of concepts in a fantasy campaign. I neither intend to represent any form of idolatry or demon worship, nor insult or offend the beliefs of any pagan ideologies that invoke the pentacle symbolism.

Additional thoughts on Non Human Spellcasters (and 1st Level Druids too!)

 Additional Thoughts on Non-Human Spellcasters

The original Non Human Spellcasters Post is Here!

It occurs to me that this system, as I presented it before, undermines the Cleric and Magic User (and Elf) classes a little bit, so here's an amendment to it:

If you have access to the books in question:
Set 4: Master Rules
Gazetteer 10, The Orcs of Thar
Gazetteer 11, The Republic of Darokin
Gazetteer 12, The Golden Khan of Ethengar
Gazetteer 14, The Atruaghin Clans
Creature Crucible 1 - Tall Tales of the Wee Folk
Creature Crucible 2 - Top Ballista
Hollow World Campaign Setting

I would definitely use the alternate spell lists given for the Non Human spellcasters, and not allow them access to spells exclusive to the Cleric, Druid, and Magic User (and Elf) in the main rule books. This goes for new spells, whether DM introduced or researched and designed by the PC, as well. Any new spell should be carefully weighed against the existing spell lists in order to determine who gets to use it. When in doubt, favor the "core" classes.

If you do not have access to these books and want to use my boiled down system for adding spellcasting to an existing class, I would make the PC choose between either the Cleric, Druid or Magic User/Elf lists, and limit them to only those spells on those lists in the core books. Don't allow them to research new spells at all, and don't give them access to any new spells you introduce to the game. There needs to be some benefit to playing a regular Cleric, Druid or Magic User.

If you only use the rules as written and never introduce any new spells or allow spell research, I'd suggest not using these optional rules at all and keeping spellcasting the exclusive ability of Cleric, Druids, Elves and Magic Users.

Druids as 1st level PCs.

I've often seen this discussed around the community, the idea that the Cruid class should be open to 1st level Clerics, since it isn't really the role of a poweful Cleric, but an alternative approach to divine magical power. I like the idea of Druids being around at all levels, so this is how I handle it.

A Druid is the same in all ways as a Cleric of equal level (hit dice, attack progression, saving throws, spells per day chart, etc) except for the following:
  • A Druid uses the Druid spell lists, not the Cleric lists, see the Companion and Master rule sets for these lists.
  • A Druid may never wear armor made from metal. Hide, leather, bone, etc are acceptable, and buckles and other incidental hardware don't count, but chain and plate mail, and similar non-standard armors are forbidden.
  • Likewise, although a druid is not bound by the Cleric's limitation on weapon use (Druids can use piercing and slashing weapons), they may not use metallic weapons, this includes weapons like arrows and maces that may be mainly composed of wood but have a metallic head. Wood, stone, bone, horn, etc are all acceptable.

Pretty simple. I see no need to create a whole new class with different saves, experience progression and other features. Just tweak the armor and weapon allowance and switch to the Druid spell list.

DemiHuman Clerics, Magic Users and Thieves (...oh my!)

As far as players that want to run Demi-Human PCs, I find the answer to be very simple. Ok, you're a halfling cleric, or dwarven thief, or whatever. Just use the human version of the class, give them their "racial abilities" (summarized below), and apply the level limit normal for their race. The level limit easily balances out the couple perks they get from their race. The racial abilities are as follows:

Dwarf: Infravision, "Mining" Detections, Language package.

Elf: Infravision, Hidden/Secret Door Detection, Immune to Ghoul paralysis, Language package.

Halfling: Combat/Defense Bonuses vs. Large Opponents, Hide in Woodlands/Shadows

Saving Throws, Hit Dice, Attack Progression, etc are based on the "human" class, not the race of the PC. It is up to the DM whether these PCs are eligible for Attack Rank or slow advancement options after reaching their level limit, but I'd recommend not.

03 January 2012

Re-Stocking the Dungeon; Last of the updates & comments

As I mentioned last time in regard to the NPC Profile articles, I may at some point update and convert the material in old posts that is specific to the Greyhawk setting, but not today. This also includes the spells and magic items articles.

Ability Scores and Spellcasting

I really like this bit of house ruling. Game balance is not a precise science, and in actual play, I have never seen anything to make me think that giving magic-users or clerics an extra spell or two each adventure day unfairly biases the game against fighters or thieves. I strongly agree with the suggestion to not grant these bonus spells to Elves or other non-human spellcasters though, they have an edge already.

A couple options for Magic Users

I loved these options when they were introduced at our game, and recommend them strongly.

There is one clarification I'd like to make though. Unlike the spell versions of Detect Magic and Analyze Dweomer/Identify Magic, these abilities require that the magic user of elf actually pick up and handle the item, possibly triggering any curses or ill effects of doing so! This does not grant the ability to scan a room and see what's magical, the PC must pick up a suspected item and closely inspect and experiment with it to determine its nature.

That about does it for comments on chatdemon's old articles here in the Dungeon. If you recall, I mentioned that I have some further thoughts and revisions on my own Spellcasting for Non Humans article, that's coming up next!

Re-Stocking the Dungeon; More updates & comments

Toying With An Overhaul Of The Cleric's Cure Wounds Spells

One of my first new content projects for the new year, coming in the next week or so, deals with critical hits, poison/disease and how healing works. I ignore this old material in favor of that.

Borrowing From The Retro-Clones 1: Caverns & Cavaliers

I really love these Borrowing from the Retro Clones articles, and this one is really fun. While the traits are somewhat like 3rd Edition's Feats in many ways, the actual perks gained are relatively minor and by no means game breaking. If your players want more options and flexibility in customizing their PCs, Weasel Fierce's system is a great idea to consider.

Like I said, I love the idea of adapting optional new stuff from the OSR games between games, including Classic D&D. I'll be reviving and continuing this feature in the future.

Borrowing from the retro clones 2: Iron Sword

A couple more fun options from Weasel Fierce. I've used both of these with no problems and like the teamwork they encourage among the players.

[Magic Item] Avrine's Lockpicks

This is one of a handful of articles originally written by me on the Canonfire! Greyhawk website. They were later revised a little by chatdemon for inclusion here in the Dungeon. So basically, I wrote it, I like it, I use it!

A note about the NPC Profile articles:

As you'll notice, many of these were written for the Greyhawk campaign setting, which we used at the time. Since retiring from that game group and focusing exclusively on Classic BECMI D&D, I've gone towards using the Mystara (or Known World) setting. I may revisit these old NPCs, some of which were, like the magic lockpicks above, originally written by me and revised by chatdemon for presentation here, and "update" them for use in a Mystara campaign, but that's beyond the scope of the updates and commentary I'm doing now. Let me know if there's a big desire to see any or all of those guys revisited!

02 January 2012

Re-Stocking the Dungeon; Comments and Updates on Old Material

Since you have a new hostess here, I mentioned that I wanted to comment on a few of the old articles, pointing out anything I don't use or think needs updating. I'll cover a couple posts at a time, so as to quickly get through them and move on with some new material.

Death's Door House Rules

While I like the idea, in theory at least, that a PC can take a couple points of damage after hitting 0 HP before being totally dead, I think using the entire Con score as the negative HP threshold is a bit much, this effectively triples or quadruples the amount of damage a first level PC can sustain before death!

I revise this and use the PC's constitution "bonus" plus 1 as the negative threshold. A PC with a constitution of 18 has a bonus of +3, so death's door unconsciousness lasts until -4 HP. At -5, that PC is dead. A character with a really low constitution, that has a negative "bonus", cannot take any damage past 0 HP. At -1 HP, this character is dead.

All PCs and monsters, npcs, etc are considered unconscious and dying at 0 HP. They will lose 1 HP per turn unless healed until death takes them.

Any PC, NPC, or monster that falls to -1 HP and recovers must make a Saving Throw vs. Death with a +2 bonus, or permanently lose a point of Constitution.

It's worth mentioning that my house rule for raising and resurrection is that the PC must make a Save vs. Death at -4 or permanently lose a point of Con.

Expanded XP awards

I really like this, and use it regularly. Like chatdemon, I do not award XP for treasure gained, so the XP value for monsters defeated and the awards on this table are all you get in my campaigns. It has the benefit of both slowing advancement down a little bit, to allow more character development along the way, and encouraging, almost mandating good role playing and clever thinking.

Just be careful not to penalize shy players, or those who might not be as creative as the others.

Lock and Trap Qualities

I like this, and always use it. The notes about multiple attempts to pick a lock after failing to do so on the first try are especially good advice, if you ask me.

Variant Non-Magical Arrows

This one is also great as written, it has my endorsement.

More next time!