The King is Dead

Friday, December 9, 2016

More Al-Qadim Thoughts


Dagnabbit, do I need to buy Southlands?


Since I can’t get my brain to concentrate on anything really creative, let’s muse for a moments about the races of Zakhara in the setting of Al-Qadim.

One of the surprising and forward-thinking aspects of Al-Qadim is that all of the usual fantasy races (elves and dwarves, orcs and goblins, etc.) live peacefully side-by-side, integrated as citizens of one nation and worshippers of one religion. I want to like this a lot more than I do; as much as I appreciate the inherent message that all sentient species can learn to come together (like in Star Trek), it just feels weird in a fantasy setting. 

I mean, if elves live for 1,000 years and they’re part of the same society as humans, why haven’t they all risen into positions of power? I mean, 20 years at the same job gets me a parking place, so surely 100 years or more gets you into upper management? Why isn’t every pasha an elf? Why isn’t the royal family?

Given that Zakhara (the in-game name for the sub-continent on which Al-Qadim is set) is supposed to be part of the same world as the Forgotten Realms, I find it weird that all of these diverse cultures have integrated. Up in Faerun, they’ve been interacting for tens of thousands of years and never successfully formed an integrated culture. Why are the cultural divides erased in Zakhara?

Admittedly, I have a pet theory for that. Calimshan – an Arabian Nights-type setting in the normal Realms – has been established in canon as part of a former genie empire that brought humans from Zakhara into the north (though this is an obvious ret-con to explain the cultural similarities). I would conjecture that the dwarves, halflings, elves, gnomes, goblins, ogres, orcs, and other standard fantasy races in Zakhara were originally brought south as slaves by that long-fallen genie. Separated by thousands of miles from their homelands and home cultures, they eventually assimilated.

Unfortunately, it still feels awkward – and kind of boring – to me. Why even have different races if they don’t have different cultures? I suspect this was one of the issues that prevented me from ever playing the setting back in the old days.

If I do get to run an Al-Qadim campaign, then I’d like to populate it in a way that makes more sense to me. Al-Qadim was released before Planescape, and somehow didn’t invent genasi itself, so I’d introduce those descendants of genies into the setting (possibly borrowing somewhat from 4e’s reworking of Calimshan into a genasi homeland). There are jungles as well as deserts, so I’d work in the tabaxi (and probably give them more humanoid heads so that they’re sexy Thundercats-looking cat people instead of weird Chester Cheetah-looking cat people). A former kingdom of giants is also part of the setting, so it would make sense to work in some variant of goliaths (or Dark Sun-derived half-giants). For the life of me, I can’t understand why gnolls aren’t a significant race in the setting (I know I complained in the earlier post about Land of Fire’s hyena-people, but that’s because the only non-humans are them, jackal-people, sand goblins, and pseudo-genasi).  

Hmm… Looking at that last sentence makes me wonder if I just need to add some sexier non-humans to Land of Fire...

Dammit, I’m just going to wind up making up another homebrew setting as I go along, aren’t I?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Savage Rifts® X Fairy Tail: Dragon Slayers [Spoilers]


The five true Dragon Slayers: Natsu, Gajeel, Wendy, Rogue, and Sting


“Yeah, I know there’s a big frakkin’ hole in it! Why else do you think I’m willin’ to give away a Glitter Boy?

“How’d it get that hole? That crazy pink-haired burster I was tellin’ you about punched that hole in there. He gathered this big ball of fire around his hand – around his whole body, tell the truth – and then that blue cat flew him at me, and – BLAMMO!

“The thing is, he had some friends that kinda acted like bursters too – in, y’know controllin’ some element the way a burster does – but they weren’t usin’ fire. There was a lightning guy and a metal guy and a wind girl – and some much weirder magic-users – but it was Pinkie the Fire Kid that punched a big, meltin’ hole in my Glitter Boy.

“And then he pulled me out and head-butted me.”

- Derek Platt, former rogue Glitter Boy pilot

[SPOILERS follow for Fairy Tail]

SECOND-GENERATION DRAGON SLAYER

Over 400 years ago, a civil war raged between the dragons of Earth Land. Most dragons thought of humans as nothing but prey – dominating that world as apex predators – but some compassionate dragons stood with the humans against their own species. They taught select humans powerful Dragon Slayer magic to join the battle for peaceful coexistence. Ironically, the human mage Acnologia grew so powerful that he transformed into a dragon himself, and exterminated the dragons of Earth Land.

Acnologia’s hatred of everything draconic was so intense that he slew all of his fellow Dragon Slayers as well. Only five young children were saved, shunted into the future by their guardian dragons. Those five heroes – Natsu Dragneel, Gajeel Redfox, Wendy Marvell, Rogue Cheney, and Sting Eucliffe – are the only true Dragon Slayers in Earth Land. With the extinction of that world’s dragons, there is no possibility of anyone else being trained in the true Dragon Slayer arts.

There are, however, others who wield a simulacrum of Dragon Slayer magic. These second-generation Dragon Slayers are implanted with magical crystals known as lacrima that contain the essence of Dragon Slayer magic. The exact origin of these lacrima is unknown, but it may be conjectured that the crystals were created by some of the first-generation Dragon Slayers who fought in the Dragon Civil War (possibly by infusing them with the powers of dragons they slew). The use of Dragon Slayer lacrima is the only known way for new Dragon Slayers to learn their powers in the modern day. 

While it is possible the dragons of Rifts® Earth – who greatly resemble Earth Land’s dragons in abilities and power – may be able to teach Dragon Slayer magic, none yet are known to have done so. Due to the destruction and unrest visited upon the Earth Land kingdom of Fiore by the rival Alvarez Empire, a trade in contraband Dragon Slayer lacrima has arisen between Earth Land and Rifts® Earth as fugitives from Earth Land bargain for refuge with the Tomorrow Legion and the Federation of Magic.

HERO’S JOURNEY (THREE ROLLS)
The Dragon Slayer lacrima must be implanted into the would-be Dragon Slayer at a young age in order for the fusion to be successful. Starting second-generation Dragon Slayers are therefore usually young and comparatively inexperienced, but the commanders of the Tomorrow Legion and the Federation of Magic are eager to train up these powerful new recruits as quickly as possible, putting them through intense regimens and sending them on long training journeys. They gain three rolls on the Education, Experience & Wisdom, Magic & Mysticism, Training, and Underworld & Black Ops tables.

CHILDREN TO DRAGONS 
 
The first-generation Dragon Slayers who were trained by dragons were mystically opened to these elements by the dragons who guided them, becoming the dragons’ adoptive children. The lacrima that give second-generation Dragon Slayers their powers may not give these wizards the same intimate connection to dragons, but they still make them metaphorical kin. Rifts® Earth and Earth Land dragons alike are more willing to parley with Dragon Slayers.
  
ELEMENTAL AFFINITY 
 
Dragon Slayers resemble Bursters in many ways, though their abilities are attuned to more than only fire. The dragons of Earth Land all seem to have a connection to one natural force, an “element” (for lack of a better name) that defines their abilities. Known Dragon Slayers wield the powers of the air, light, lightning, metal, poison, and shadow; dragons not affiliated with a Dragon Slayer have shown affinity with stone and jade, produced laser-like beams, and even projected eggs from their body that immediately hatched into humanoid dragon-kin (though what element the last embodies is the subject of much speculation).
 
Dragon Slayers’ elemental affinity makes them immune to their element and resistant to closely-related elements. In addition, they can devour their element for temporary bursts of strength. 
 
Drawing upon draconic power not truly their own, Dragon Slayers are limited to a list of 15 possible powers.The specific powers available to a Dragon Slayer reflect their elemental affinity, and should be worked out between the Game Master and player during character creation. Most Dragon Slayer powers are overtly destructive, but some elements – like air – allow Dragon Slayers access to gentler arts. Some examples of element/power combinations are:
  • Air: armor, boost/lower trait, burst, damage field, deflection, detect/conceal arcana, dispel, divination, elemental manipulation, greater healing, healing, pummel, quickness, smite, speed 
  • Darkness: armor, blast, blind, boost/lower trait, burst, damage field, darksight, dispel, entangle, fear, intangibility, obscure, puppet, smite, teleport 
  • Fire: armor, blast, bolt, boost/lower trait, burst, damage field, dispel, elemental manipulation, fear, havoc, light, pummel, quickness, smite, warrior’s gift
DRAGON SLAYER ABILITIES AND BONUSES 

Infused with the incredible raw power of dragons, Dragon Slayers rival Bursters and Flame Wind Dragon Hatchlings for sheer destructive power.  
  • Arcane Background (Magic): a second-generation Dragon Slayer begins with three powers from the list above, 20 PPE, and a d8 Spellcasting skill. 
  • Draconic Resilience: Dragon Slayers gain +6 Toughness from their attunement to dragons and have the Slow Regeneration ability. 
  • Dragon Roar: Dragon Slayers can roar forth a punishing cyclone of their element. This roar does 4d6 Damage in a Cone Template, costs no PPE, and does Mega Damage. The Dragon Slayer may impose a -2 on opponents’ Dexerity rolls to avoid damage by spending 1 PPE or -4 for 2 PPE (the bonus is doubled for the same cost when on a ley line). 
  • Dragon Stomach: A Dragon Slayer on Hold who succeeds in interrupting an opponent attacking with the Dragon Slayer’s element may instead devour that attack, converting the damage dealt to PPE (a fire Dragon Slayer might swallow a plasma bolt while a metal Dragon Slayer might devour bullets). A Dragon Slayer may also make an unarmed attack against an inanimate object of his or her element, eating the damage they deal to the object as PPE (see Breaking Things in Savage Worlds for information on attacking inanimate objects). Dragon Slayers may not consume their element if it was created by their own magic. 
  • Elemental Immunity: A second-generation Dragon Slayer is immune to the element he is attuned to and only suffers half damage from the nearest related element of the player’s choosing (light or lightning for an air or fire Dragon Slayer, for example). The relationship of the elements is often more a matter of metaphor than physics (a metal Dragon Slayer might be resistant to poison because heavy metals are often poisonous, or darkness because of the shadow over his own heart). 
  • Enhanced Senses: All Dragon Slayers have the Alertness Edge. 
  • Instinctual Spellcaster: Unlike other spellcasters with Arcane Background (Magic), Dragon Slayers’ Spellcasting skill is linked to their Spirit, not their Smarts. (Spirit also serves as the required Attribute when taking magic-related Edges – like Master of Magic – that require specific Smarts rankings.)
DRAGON SLAYER COMPLICATIONS

Dragon Slayers’ attunement to the elemental power of dragons results in minor physical mutations that make them stand out in a crowd, as well as some oddly debilitating side effects.
  • Cybernetics: The fusion of a lacrima to a second-generation Dragon Slayer creates a physical as well as metaphysical change in the recipient – a change that is damaged by the addition of cybernetic implants. Each point of Strain accrued from cybernetic enhancements and replacements to a Dragon Slayer imposes a -1 penalty on Spellcasting rolls. 
  • Enemies: The Coalition has bounties out on the heads of all identified second-generation Dragon Slayers on Rifts® Earth – and back in Earth Land, the terrifying dragon Acnologia is happy to hunt them down.
  • Motion Sickness: All Dragon Slayers suffer from terrible motion sickness and cannot ride in vehicles without suffering a -4 penalty to all rolls while the vehicle is in motion. This motion sickness lasts until the Dragon Slayer disembarks the vehicle and makes a successful Vigor roll.  
 
NOW I’VE GOT A FIRE IN MY BELLY!
  • The charisma and strong spirits of most second-generation Dragon Slayers make them natural (if rough-edged) leaders.
  • Dragon Slayers do not begin with the Master of Magic Edge. Don’t forget to take it and other Dragon Slayer Edges as soon as you qualify.
  • Do not gaze too long into the abyss. Do not become a dragon yourself. 
 
New Edges

Secret Art: Dragon Force
Requirements: Second-Generation Dragon Slayer, Veteran, Spellcasting d12+
For a cost of 3 PPE, the Dragon Slayer manifests increased draconic traits. The Dragon Slayer grows scales offering +6 M.D.C. Armor (stacking with the armor power) and exudes an aura matching his element; this aura does 3d6 Mega Damage to anyone striking the Dragon Slayer in melee and can be added to the Dragon Slayer’s Fighting attacks. The Dragon Force dissipates if the Dragon Slayer is incapacitated or decides to end it.

Secret Art: Improved Dragon Roar
Requirements: Novice, Second-Generation Dragon Slayer, Spirit d10+
The damage of the Dragon Slayer’s roar increases to 6d6.

Secret Art: Greater Dragon Roar
Requirements: Veteran, Secret Art: Improved Dragon Roar
This Edge brings the damage of the roar up to 6d8 and increases the range to two Cone Templates laid end to end.


Savage Rifts® X Fairy Tail: Madōshi (魔導士)



Who's your favorite?



“It weren’t like that pink-haired Burster and his cat were the only problem… Yeah, I’ll get back to him, but like I said, the two of ‘em weren’t the only problem.
“Like I said…
“Listen, kid, I know you’re curious about the Burster, but I want you to understand that my pals and I didn’t get our asses handed to us by just some kid and his cat. They had friends.
“There was this naked guy throwing ice at us – and this half-naked chick with a minotaur in tow – and this gal in armor. Jebus wept, she was scarier than the pink-haired guy.”

– Derek Platt, former rogue Glitter Boy pilot

MADŌSHI M.A.R.S. PACKAGE
 
The powerful spellcasters of Earth Land – called madōshi (魔導士) in their own world, but known on Rifts® Earth as mages or wizards – have studied the magic of their world with all the intensity and devotion of any masters of magic. In doing so, they have discovered how to tap deep into a person’s Potential Psychic Energy, but this does not make all of them the equal of Ley Line Walker or Mystic. 
 
All Earth Land madōshi belong to a guild where they receive food, lodging, and employment opportunities. In the wake of the Alvarez invasion and the world-changing deployment of Irene Belserion’s World Reconstruction Magic: Universe One, several minor guilds have found themselves transported through the rifts. 
  • Begin with Knowledge (Arcana) d6 and Spellcasting d8
  • Begin with the Arcane Background (Magic) and Connections (Guild) Edges
  • Begin with 20 PPE.
  • Begin with the starting gear of any one Iconic Framework of your choosing.
 
New Trappings
  
Air
Air or wind magic infuses magic with effects as diverse as the ever-changing weather.
  • Breeze: A brisk breeze gives wings to the subject’s feet. Fly and speed gain an additional 2” of movement, while a raise with quickness allows the caster to redraw any initiative cards lower than Ten. 
  • Hurricane: Attacks based on concentrated air alone do one type less damage and defensive powers grant half as much protection, but hurricane-based powers force the caster’s enemies to stand strong against gale-force winds. The target of an offensive power or an opponent attacking the wielder of a defensive power must make an opposed Strength roll against the caster’s arcane skill roll; if the enemy fails, the caster may choose from one of the Push effects outlined under Situational Combat Rules (substituting flying debris for the shield in a Shield Bash).
Celestial Spirit
Summoned spirits act on behalf of the madōshi; this particular form of magic can be very flexible, as it allows the caster to build up a large roster of free-willed allies, but it is particularly draining and requires the madōshi to not only have special keys allowing access to these spirits, but to make contracts with them. These allies are unique beings, and the Game Master and player should work together to give them individual descriptions and personalities. Celestial spirits are banished to their home dimension when defeated on the mortal plane.
  • Lesser Ally: For the cost of +3/1 Power Points, the power is embodied in a free-willed ally – a spiritual creature who takes physical form in this plane (use the bodyguard template from the summon ally power) – leaving the spellcaster free in subsequent rounds to take any action she sees fit (like running and hiding). The spellcaster must pay any points for subsequent uses of this power (including maintenance costs) from her own PPE.
  • Greater Ally: As Lesser Ally, but the cost is +5/1 Power Points and the summoned spirit uses the sentinel template from summon ally.
Metal/Stone
Metal and stone trappings infuse powers with the toughness of steel or hardiness of granite.
  • Armor Plating: Powers with a duration longer than instant (armor, quickness, smite, etc.) grant an additional +2 Armor at the cost of +2 Power Points; unarmed foes striking an opponent so defended take 1d4 damage from bruising their fists. 
  • Shards: Ranged attacks can splinter on impact, creating shrapnel that does +1 damage versus unarmored targets but -1 damage versus foes with Armor.
Requip
Rather than wielding magic directly from their own body, a requip madōshi summons armor and weapons from extraplanar pockets to utilize powers contained in those objects. Whenever a wizard learns a new power, they must choose whether that power will be tied to a weapon or a suit of armor. Power points to activate the powers are paid out of the mage’s personal PPE.
  • Armor: For Power Points equal to the armor value of the type of armor summoned (+1 Power Point for leather through +3 for plate), the power is incarnated in a suit of armor that instantly encases the spellcaster. Even if the power in question has an instantaneous duration, the armor remains as long as the mage does not use a different spell.
  • Weapon: The power is activated through a weapon the madōshi may summon directly to her hand(s). The weapon has all of the normal properties of that weapon in addition to the power contained therein; the power may be activated by using mage’s Fighting, Shooting, or Throwing skill as appropriate. Even if the power in question has an instantaneous duration, the weapon remains (and may be used as a mundane weapon) as long as the mage does not use a different spell.
Madōshi Edges
 
Magical Adept
Requirements: Novice, Arcane Background (Magic), Fighting d8+, Spellcasting d8+
To the surprise of many, the madōshi of Earth Land have learned to hone their bodies as effectively as the religious Adepts of other worlds. This Edge functions the same as Adept from Savage Worlds, requiring a background in Magic rather than Miracles.
 
Requip Master
Requirements: Seasoned, Trapping Specialist (Requip), Spellcasting d10+ 
Your mastery of requip magic allows you to wear requipped armor and wield a requipped weapon at the same time. Doing so, however, still counts as maintaining multiple powers for purposes of arcane skill rolls.
 
Second Origin
Requirements: Veteran, Arcane Background (Magic), Master of Magic, Soul Drain, Spellcasting d10+
Hidden deep in the psyche of every madōshi is the ability to tap into extra reserves of PPE in an emergency, but only intense and painful training can awaken it and only the most extreme of circumstances call for it. When a madōshi is suffering from at least two wounds and has less than half her PPE remaining, she may spend a Benny and make a Spirit roll. On a success, the madōshi recovers her full amount of PPE and is healed of her wounds. At the end of the battle or other circumstances that required the use of her Second Origin, however, the hero is Exhausted and may only recover with a day’s rest.
[Please note that – as powerful as this Edge may seem – it’s a significant nerf of the ability seen in Fairy Tail, where gaining one’s Second Origin effectively grants the madōshi double their original Power Points.]
 
Trapping Specialist
Requirements: Novice, Arcane Background (Magic)
Choose a trapping (air, celestial spirit, fire, cold/ice, requip, etc.). All of your hero’s powers use that trapping. While this limits their flexibility to some degree, it also grants them increased control; the hero does not suffer from Backlash.   
 
New Power
 
Third Origin Release
Rank: Legendary
Power Points: 10
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
 
A power related to time-manipulation magic, third origin release allows the caster to let the target tap into potential Power Points from the future. The willing recipient of third origin release gains Power Points or PPE equal to twice their normal maximum value – but once those Power Points are spent, they can never regain Power Points again, effectively ending their career as a spellcaster. Needless to say, this power is usually used only as a last resort.



Monday, December 5, 2016

A Mirage Appears Before Me


That's a Leap of Faith, right? (I know nothing about Assassin's Creed.)



The leaves have nothing on how changeable my moods can be.

The current duet game is a modern paranormal romance/urban fantasy game borrowing heavily from Changeling : The Dreaming, but not quite using that setting’s mythology (I should be using either Fae Nightmares or Marchland for Savage Worlds, as I own both, but I just can’t seem to penetrate either of those books.) A few weeks in, though, and I find myself fantasizing about running an Al-Qadim campaign.

Al-Qadim, for those not familiar with it, was AD&D 2nd Edition’s setting of pseudo-Arabian, 1,001 Nights-inflected adventure. I bought the first book – Al-Qadim: Arabian Adventures – and first boxed set – Al-Qadim: Land of Fate – back when they first came out, but never ran the setting. As a fan of the Forgotten Realms, I was put off by the rather high-handed tone the new setting took toward the older one, calling out the cultures of Faerun as backwards and barbaric compared to the civil and cosmopolitan lands of Zakhara.

I realize now that designer Jeff Grubb was just channeling a bit of historical accuracy from the time of the Crusades, but it really rankled back then (and I still think it’s functionally incorrect, given the vast age and technological advancement of Faerunian culture). In fact, I’m amused and impressed at how hard TSR worked to avoid (and even reverse) the orientalism one might have expected from a mishmash of authentic Middle Eastern history, dubious folklore, and Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad movies.

Ironically, of course, my own interest in the setting verges on the orientalist. I’m intrigued by Al-Qadim’s possibilities precisely because of the sensuality and passion my primitive lizard brain associates with belly dancers and harems, windswept dunes and blue seas, shirtless heroes and scimitars. Perhaps I want those harems to be reversed (after all, I as GM am catering to Robin as the player, not vice versa), but I still want the game to drip with mystery and the exotic.

(And before any of my fellow Savage Worlds fans chime in, yes, I do own the Hellfrost; Land of Fire product line in PDF. I just find it less sexy than Al-Qadim. Heck, I’d probably run the game using Savage Worlds and stealing NPC stats from Land of Fire as I have no desire to much around with 2nd Edition again.)

It’s probably the rain and the cold and the promise of an unpleasant winter ahead (both in the physical and metaphorical senses) that have me suddenly sympathetic to a pseudo-Islamic setting. Oh well, we just started this paranormal romance game, so it’s not like we’re just going to throw it away already. I’ll just have to keep this idea in mind for a few months, and maybe build up some materials for it. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just jam to the hypnotic tunes of the Pandora traditional Arabic-Andalusian station and dream of warmer climes as a vision of genies and domed cities dances before my eyes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

fiction in progress


I'm not sure what this is besides practice for me at writing fiction again after years and years away from it.
I'm sure some people are wondering why I'm not writing some The King is Dead fiction instead of some kind of weird Forgotten Realms fan fiction; the simplest answer is that I'd need to do more expository heavy lifting than I feel comfortable with at this point. (I am so, so out of practice with fiction.)
I'm going to update this page directly as I write more. I've got a wacky idea of maybe sticking in an appendix of character stats or something like that and selling this at the Dungeon Masters Guild -- if the story actually comes together. If I get far enough with it that putting it up for sale seems likely, then I'll probably stop uploading to here.



"Zzar.”

Elonwy looked up, an eyebrow arched in confusion. Tombold stared back at her, a handful of coins in his bloodied hand.

“What the hell is zzar?” she asked, turning back to patting down the hobgoblin corpse. She hoped that its coin purse would be easy to find; she didn’t relish pawing under its armor or stripping the creature to find some valuables.

“Y'know, you’re always talking smack about Waterdeep and you barely know anything about it...“ Tombold started to reply.

Elonwy cut him off. “I know everything I need to know about Waterdeep.” She felt a promising bulge on the hobgoblin’s hip beneath his baldric. She gingerly fondled it, hoping to feel gems or coins, hoping it didn’t squirm. She vomited sightly in her mouth at the thought of the palm-sized tick on that one orc from last week.

“No, you don’t,” her companion continued. He dumped the coins in his satchel and wiped the hobgoblin blood off on his trousers. “The simple fact of the matter is that Waterdeep has a much better booze scene than Silverymoon and zzar is all the proof you need.” He walked over and crouched down beside the young half-elf. “Y’know, he’s not going to bite. His head would have to be attached for that to happen.”

“Tick.”

“Oh, yeah. Tick… That was… educational.”

Elonwy unbuckled the hobgoblin’s baldric – it was tooled leather, competently made, and might be worth something to a traveler wishing to impress his family down south – and pulled up the dead creature’s tunic. Thankfully, the jangling bulge was indeed a coin-filled canvas bag. She spilled a few into her hand; they were an odd assortment of familiar human coins from the surface and odd ones she could only guess were from the Underdark. The ones with the spiders on them were presumably drow.

“Wow, these guys were really carrying some gelt,” Tombold said, sidling up close to Elonwy. This close, the dark, spicy scent of his half-orc sweat and myrrh cologne made her head swim. “I’ve got to admit,” he growled in her ear, “that a close-won fight like this just makes me want to – celebrate life, y’know?”

She cursed herself for feeling the same way; it was half the reason she was half the reason she was tromping around the Coldwood with a frickin’ bard instead of something useful like a druid or another ranger. Elonwy stashed away the coins and put her hand on Tombold’s thigh.

“Fine, but I’m not doing it in sight of a pile of corpses. And we need to be quick in case there’s another patrol.”


***

Afterwards, as she laced up her breeches, Elonwy asked, “So what the heck is zzar?”

Tombold didn’t hear her ask the first time. His brain was still foggy with lust – or love – or longing – or whatever it was he felt. He tried not to define it, refusing to give it words. Words have meanings, after all.

The half-elf ranger asked again and Tombold came back to his senses. There was a reason he brought up zzar in the first place.

“Sluth fortified with almond brandy.” She did that cocked eyebrow thing, so he kept talking. “Sluth is a dry white wine. The Thanns brought the sluth varietal north from their holdings down in Tethyr, where it originally grew on the hills above the River Sluth. The southern style is to make sweet sluth wine, but it worked better for dry wines. Most of the vines are around Rassalantar.”

Tombold paused to fish a small glassteel bottle out of his satchel. He shook the bottle slightly, splashing the orange-colored liquid against the sides to run down in thick, luxurious legs. Elonwy wet her lips, obviously intrigued. Tombold handed her the bottle and she took a tentative sip.

“Alright,” she sighed, “I will admit that this is really, really nice.” She took another sip, mouthing the wine to get the full flavor. She cocked her eyebrow again and experimentally tapped the bottle. “How much did you pay for the glassteel?”

He’d spent half of his take from their last several jobs on that bottle, but Tombold didn’t want to admit the exact amount. “I just wanted to make sure that when I finally got ahold of some zzar, I could carry it without tainting the taste with leather or pewter. Y’know, leather’s great for dry red still wines, but it would wreck a fortified wine like this.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” the half-elf admitted. She quirked a smile at him. The bard was torn between fear that she’d drink the rest of the bottle and joy at seeing her relax. Elonwy was always so serious, even angry, when they were on an adventure. Sometimes he wondered why she even became a ranger – and whether he’d ever be able to get her to go more than a tenday’s walk from Silverymoon. She handed the glassteel bottle back to him.

Tombold made the kind of dumbass decision he always made about Elonwy. “No, keep it,” he said. “I bought it for you,” he lied.

She froze for a moment like a drow caught in sunlight, then Elonwy gave Tombold a zzar-flavored kiss and unsheathed a knife. “Do you want to help me harvest the ears?” she asked.

***

With the ears stowed away and the bodies looted, Elonwy led Tombold back through the forest. Only an hour remained before sunset and darkness already loomed in the Coldwood. Though both of them had inherited darkvision from their non-human parent, Elonwy didn’t want to risk an encounter with a nocturnal predator.

She cursed when she came across the close-packed mess of bones and hide. Longer than a halfling is tall, a pair of broken antlers jutted out from one end. She reluctantly knelt and touched an ungloved hand to the mass. It was sticky and warm. “Gods damn it,” she hissed.

“So, that’s gross…” Tombold offered.

“It’s an owlbear pellet – fur and bones and other stuff it can’t digest. I found my skinning knife in one,” Elonwy answered.

“Also gross.”

“It’s warm and wet and that means the owlbear who spit this up is nearby. It’s also been about half a day since it ate, so it could be hungry.”

“I think we can take an owlbear. We took out half a dozen hobgoblins.”

Elonwy glared at Tombold. “I don’t want to fight it. It might be half of a mated pair; it might have cublets. More importantly, it would be a dangerous and unnecessary waste of time and resources. We still might have vengeful hobgoblins tracking us.”

She doubted that hobgoblins were after them. The ragged condition of the group they ambushed made her suspect they were either deserters or a patrol from the mountains lost in the woods. It was just easier something Tombold would probably take more serious than her reluctance to fight an animal just trying to feed itself.

The half-orc looked chastened. She felt a pang of guilt, but it was his fault for not taking things seriously. That’s what Waterdeep did to people.

“Alright… you’re the ranger,” he said quietly.

Elonwy led them quickly back to the flet they used when visiting that arm of the Coldwood. A score of rangers – friends, friends of friends, people who shared mentors or students or just drank together when they were in town – maintained the camouflaged blinds in the canopy as a courtesy for their peers. Stocked with caches of dried foodstuffs and pure water, the flets provided a superior alternative to camping on the ground within easy reach of predators and monsters.

“Give me a boost,” Elonwy commanded in a whisper. Tombold made a stirrup of his hands and helped her jump up to a branch ten feet off the ground. She fumbled around for the rope to climb up to the flet and cursed quietly when she couldn’t find it, panicking for a moment before she realized what that meant. “Hey! Is there somebody up there?” she shouted up at the tree top in Common and then Elvish.

A pale face – barely a blob on the edge of her darkvision – peered over the side of the platform. “Oh, hey! Elonwy, is that you?” answered a male voice in Elvish.

“Mielikki, take me now,” she muttered to herself.

An ominous, rumbling hoot sounded nearby in the forest.

***

The elf waiting for them on the flet wore nothing except light linen breeches, which seemed pretty cavalier to Tombold. It might be early summer, but it wasn’t that warm. It was never that warm in the Coldwood; that’s why people called it that.

On the other hand, he wasn’t sure if the drow wore anything except her long silver-white hair. He found it difficult to complain about that, even if he had to keep his eyes firmly trained elsewhere.

Elonwy paused. He knew her well enough to recognize she was assessing the situation with the same guardedness she devoted to an ambush site or strange tracks on the forest floor. A sinking feeling plummeted down Tombold’s stomach. This handsome nudist must be an ex-boyfriend.

The owlbear hoot-growled at the base of the tree. Tombold wished he was down there.

“Mithiel, it’s good to see you,” Elonwy said without much enthusiasm. Shirtless Mithiel didn’t seem to notice, greeting her with a full-bodied embrace and kissing her cheeks. The observably naked drow offered Tombold the same courtesy and then embraced the surprised Elonwy. She grimaced and shrugged at Tombold over the drow’s shoulders, indicating what he assumed was an apology.

“Friend of my heart, it has been too long in your short life since I have known the joys of your company,” Mithiel answered in Elvish. “This is Verralka. She’s Eilistraeen.” 

“Are you from the Promenade of the Dark Maiden?” asked Tombold in Elvish, interrupting the smug, shirtless elf.  

Mithiel glowered for a moment, but Verralka smiled, her glowing red eyes twinkling. “No, I’m afraid not. You know the Promenade?”

“By reputation only, I’m afraid,” said Tombold.

Elonwy abruptly switched to Common. “I’m pleased to meet you, Verralka. I’m Elonwy Calentari, a former pupil and partner of Mithiel, and this is my current partner, Tombold… um… Rageblood.” 

Tombold wasn’t sure which was worse: Elonwy’s use of the word “partner” or her embarrassment over his surname. Elvish had a dozen different words for “lover” to indicate the seriousness of the relationship; “partner” was just ambiguous enough to let the elf with the abs interpret things however he wanted.

“Rageblood, huh? So you’re a half-orc, I take it?” asked Mithiel, a bland smile on his sparkly-white face.

Verralka seemed genuinely surprised. “You couldn’t tell?”

“I take after my grandparents,” Tombold said, sticking with Common. “I’m second-generation half-orc,” he answered to the unspoken question. “Born and raised in Waterdeep.” He unpinned his cloak and unslung his yarting. The strings jangled a bit as he laid it on the flet’s floor.

The drow smiled; the elf raised a cocked eyebrow. Tombold wondered what else Elonwy picked up from the shirtless wonder.

The damned owlbear scratched at the tree trunk, hooting at the four-course meal out of its reach.
 The tree was sturdy, but still swayed slightly against the owlbear’s aggression. Tombold looked over the railing, disconcerted to see the monstrosity had managed to climb a few feet up the trunk. Mithiel crossed to stand beside him and hissed in consternation.

“Fine, let’s kill the damned owlbear,” Ellonwy sighed.

***

Afterwards – after the brief flurry of steel and claws, after the blood and silence, after the dirty practicality of moving the heavy body away from the flet so as not to attract predators and scavengers during the night – Ellonwy downed the remaining zzar. It was just enough to make her head swim agreeably.

The moon and stars shone through the canopy. Verralka – perhaps in order to cut off a lecture about the constellations from Mithiel, or perhaps simply as an excuse to show off – had asked Tombold to play a song and now danced in the center of the platform, her silver-white hair catching the pale light as it swirled around her naked body. Ellonwy watched Tombold studiously ignore the drow, closing his eyes to pretend he was lost in the music.

Except he might not be pretending...

Ellonwy had seen Tombold enraptured by his art before when playing for the crowd at the Bright Blade Brandished, or when playing for her alone in the rooms they rented near Hunters’ Gate. Despite what so many Silveraen muttered behind Tombold’s back (and her own, she assumed), Ellonwy had always found the half-orc ruggedly handsome; when he lost himself in music, though, he was beautiful.

Right now, he was heartbreaking.

The half-elf yawned theatrically, mouth gaping and tongue curling like a cat. She stretched, noticing that the bard’s eyes were now half-open. She blinked.

“Are you tired?” asked Tombold. He headed off objections from the elf and drow by stating “We’ve been up since before dawn. We tracked down some hobgoblins and – y’know – it’s been a big day.”

“Yeah. Darkvision, shmarkvision… It’s still easier to travel by day,” Ellonwy chimed in. “Could you put up the hut? These two are probably moving more by night than day, and I don’t want to inconvenience them.”

He put down his yarting and began rearranging packs and cloaks. Ellonwy stepped to his side and whispered “Just the two of us,” and Tombold gathered up their equipment and began rearranging things again.

The bard fished a crystal bead out of a belt pocket as Ellonwy sat down beside him. After a few short words and arcane gestures, a glowing, purplish translucent dome bloomed from the crystal, harmlessly passing through the tree and leaving half the platform uncovered.

“Good night!” Ellonwy called to the two elves, whispering out of the side of her mouth “Make it opaque now!” The dome subtly darkened; inside, it was still translucent, but Ellonwy knew Mithiel and Verralka could no longer see inside the tiny hut.

“Are you okay? I mean, he’s kind of an ass, but I’m used to that crap. And I’m not flirting with Verralka; I think she just flirts with everyone,” Tombold babbled.

Ellonwy ignored him, laying out the bedrolls on top of each other. She hastily unbuckled her armor, tugged off her boots, and began peeling off her clothes. “I’m a little drunk and it’s been a bad day and I’d like it to end better than it began.” Finally naked, she lay back against the piled bedrolls. It was silly, it was pretentious, and it made her heart thunder, but she said “Come lay beside me, true companion of my heart and body.”

Tombold looked as surprised as she felt, but then he smiled. It showed his tusk-like lower canines; it was adorable. “Leomund’s tiny hut doesn’t stop sound, y’know. They’ll hear us,” he laughed.
 
“I really don’t frigging care,” Ellonwy answered.
***

Ellonwy, cuddling against Tombold, shook with barely-repressed laughter, tears streaming from her beautiful eyes. Tombold gave her a quick peck on the cheek, tasting those tears, and then went back to staring fixedly at the sky.

“I never expected this to happen,” she apologized.

“I guess they’re not aware that the spell is transparent from the inside? Or do they not care that we can see them having sex?” he asked.

“Not that we didn’t bring this on ourselves…”

Ellonwy propped herself up on Tombold’s chest. She blocked the sight of Mithiel’s buttocks in his peripheral vision, so he was more than willing to endure the pressure on his chest. Moods shifted across her face; she bit her lip, biting back a joke, but then the twinkle left her eyes. Tombold kissed her.

“Not that it wasn’t worth it,” he offered by way of apology.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Observations After a Game of Dungeon World


We did not actually visit a dungeon... yet.


I finally played a game of Dungeon World this weekend, and I’m conflicted about my responses.
 
I had a lot of fun. One of Robin’s old buddies ran the game, and he did a great job of keeping everyone engaged and active. I played a barbarian, so I got to be dumb and hilarious. Everyone had a good time.

EDITED TO ADD: I’m slightly more awake than when I started this post, so let me add some more things I liked about Dungeon World. The lack of a formal initiative or turn system means the action scenes really move with the fluidity of fiction, rather than the stilted (and sometimes inexplicable) fashion of most RPGs. Since classes in Dungeon World do damage based on their class rather than their weapon, it also meant that I could have my barbarian fight by using stunts like head-butting his opponent or throwing it against the wall rather than whipping out my sword for everything. The focus on the fiction also means that otherwise dull choices (like whatever the Help action is called) remain exciting within the context (in this case, trying to fling a hag into the path of shape-changed druid’s claws) whereas it’s dull as dirt in D&D 5e.

Sitting across from the GM, though, I kept imagining that I would be bored out of my mind if I never got to roll dice. For that matter, the collaborative world building and storytelling aspects of the game do require players to wear both actor hats and writer hats at the same time, which detracts from immersion (though only slightly in the game we played). My suspicions about the Apocalypse World Engine needing at least two players and a GM were confirmed as well; there’s way too much collaboration assumed to work as a duet game.
 
That said, though, I wonder if it would be possible to whittle away some of the collaborative assumptions in order to trim the mechanics back to better support duet play. I guess that if you just assume that when a mechanic asks for a bond or interaction from another player that it instead means an NPC character, then that could work. Hmm…
 
I’m intrigued enough that I started rereading my copies of Monster of the Week and Monsterhearts to get a better handle on AWE mechanics and concepts. Robin and I are currently playing an urban fantasy game and – despite owning Fae Nightmares and Marchland, the urban fantasy settings for Savage Worlds – we’re basically making up the setting as we go. Splicing together MotW and Monsterhearts might actually give me a simpler, player-focused structure for introducing a greater element of risk without having to work up stats for NPCs I’m making up on the spot.
 
Bleah. I’m rambling badly. It’s amazing how a four-day weekend can throw you off your schedule. (No, it isn’t. It’s bloody obvious.)
 
Other thoughts:
  • Yep, I can see where D&D 5e steals from Dungeon World.
  • Sam, the GM, in explaining the fiction-focused mechanics mentioned how one could not destroy a castle with a single sword blow since that generally isn’t accepted as part of the fiction – and then backtracked a little to say it would be possible if the group decided it was possible. I immediately started thinking about the over-the-top power levels of anime and manga heroes (well, I immediately thought “I damn well could destroy a castle in one blow if this was a Fairy Tail game”) and so spent last night poring through all 505 of the products DriveThruRPG has listed under the Apocalypse World Engine. While there are several anime-inspired Dungeon World playbooks, there aren’t any anime-inspired AWE hacks. This is a mistake. The fiction-focused mechanics of AWE could easily justify the way characters throw around explosive, mountain-crumbling attacks that their fellow fighters just shrug off.
  • There are a couple of obviously Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra-inspired AWE games on DTRPG. They could probably do Fairy Tail pretty well, but I’m still surprised someone hasn’t put together a "Shonen World" game that allows you to emulate everything from Attack on Titan to Yu Yu Hakusho. The playbooks would obviously be based off of the personality types – Blue Oni, Girly Girl, Lancer, Red Oni, Tomboy, etc. – rather than specific power sets, allowing the playbooks to be easily adapted to whatever the conceit of the setting is (baseball, mecha, supernatural martial arts, etc.). 
  • I’m very tempted to buy Spirit of ’77.
  • I did pay a buck for Monster Force Terra – a really short PWYW AWE kaiju game – which, weirdly, seems like it would work fine as a duet game. Maybe I could get Robin to run a game for me, since I doubt she'd want to play a brainless force of destruction for even a couple of hours. I like playing barbarians, so obviously I'd be up for it.
  • Maybe I should try running Monster of the Week for the group. Most of them are fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Savage Worlds: The Power of Superstition




Wait, is Velma the pop cultural descendant of Emily St. Aubert? 



Whether it’s an unscrupulous real estate developer using it to scare the masses or a cloaked vigilante using it to frighten criminals, fear of the supernatural – superstition – plays an important role in many settings where – just like in the real world – the supernatural does not exist. A disguised swamp buggy equipped with a flamethrower convinces the inhabitants of Jamaica that Dr. No’s Crab Key is home to a dragon. Sherlock Holmes quickly deduces that a rash of bloodsucking is merely a distraction from a mundane murder attempt in “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.” Zorro scares the pants off some lancers by painting a glowing skull on the wall in phosphorous in “Zorro Hunts a Jackal.” Indeed, the “female Gothic” tradition of Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Brontë, and others usually hinges on the supernatural elements having scientific explanations, the better to show that the true terror is the selfish, morally bankrupt desires of the male antagonists.

While the existence of the false supernatural – of reason-shattering superstition – could easily be made the stuff of setting fluff, what’s out of sight is often out of mind. The following three options can aid Game Masters and players in keeping superstition forefront in a campaign; note, however, that the setting rule is somewhat redundant with the Edge.

New Setting Rule – Cowardly Superstitious Lot
Despite the evidence of science and reason, the majority of characters in this setting believe in supernatural beings and powers. This means they can easily be duped by heroes and villains using “special effects” appropriate to that era: for example, a Roman senator might be convinced that a man powdered with chalk is a ghost, a Victorian matron might be taken in by table-rapping spiritualists, and the modern day owner of some valuable, underdeveloped property might be scared off by a man with a fog machine and a rubber mask. Characters preying on the superstitious by using such disguises and effects can force their victims to make a Fear check after a successful use of Intimidation.

New Hindrance – Superstitious [Minor]
Mere mortal dangers bother your hero not at all, but the thought of peril to his soul fills him with dread. He subtracts 2 from all of his fear-based Spirit checks against manifestations (or supposed manifestations) of the supernatural.

New Edge – I Am the Night
Requirements: Wild Card, Intimidation d8+
Through a clever disguise or the careful cultivation of a spooky reputation, this character has convinced others that he is a supernatural or uncanny being. The character can leverage this misapprehension to force his victims to make a Fear test if he gets a raise on an Intimidation check.