Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Clerical Relics

I've been thinking recently about cleric spells. While it's pretty easy for magic-users to find or develop new formulas, [OD&D] clerics are stuck with the same minuscule and often slightly dull list for their entire careers.

At the same time, I have also been thinking about giving religious relics some sort of objective power within the context of Agrivaina that could lead to struggles of power between temples even within the same religion.

Thus I came up with the idea that relics, when consecrated at a temple or church, grant the power of a new, unique spell to all members of that specific church of temple.

Thus if Brother Mark, a second level cleric in the service of Giles Village Church, finds the skull of St. Valentine and consecrates it before the alter, all clerics capable of cast spells and belonging to the Giles Village Church would have access to a new spell. Likewise, Sister Karen at West Minster Church across the river would NOT have access to that spell even though they are both Christian clerics.

Relics associated with another religion (such as the Lion Skin of Heracles) would not, whoever, grant a new spell, but could still be stolen to prevent foes from access to that prayer.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Agrivaina, Appendex N

In preperation for the Agrivaina campaign, I've decided to come up with my own Appendix N, or inspirational reading list. Now, I'm not directly borrowing much from any of these sources, they have all inspired the work I've done with the island, especial its mood, tone, and feel.

Dying Earth Series, Jake Vance
Island of the Unknown, Geoffrey McKinne
Gilgamesh, author(s) unknown
Odyssey, Homer
Aeneid, Virgil
Le Morte D'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malor
One Thousand and One Nights, Scheherazade/authors unknown
Conan Series, Robert E. Howard
Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
Histories, Herodotus

I'm also drawing on a number is historical works, such as The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character (Samuel Noah Kramer, 1971) and a number of other text I cannot recall off the top of my head centering around Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian.

While pretentious as hell, I'm finding these to be a very robust and well rounded group of stories to draw upon, coming from a a number of distinct time periods, locations, and genres.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bringing Back the Magic

Normally I'm a huge fan of JB's as the old Blackrazor. But I have to say something in reference to his latest post:

Of course there is no magic in the D&D RULES. They are rules; they are mechanical and easily understood in nature. If you know the rules, there are only the levers. It's up to you and your players to make the magic happen.

That being said, that's just the way I want it. I want my D&D to be something to build off of. Something easily understandable that I can jazz up. It's a starting place, and it's all there in the first few pages of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: Men & Magic (which I can't quote because I'm away from my books).

Basically it says, here's some building blocks. Now fuck them up.

That's what I want. Something to mash and sift through. Something I can turn into my own but still stay on the same page as my players. In essence, I want to game with enough sub-systems and moving parts that I can remove some, add some new one, and make my own damn magic.

And guess what? It's easy.

Ian's 9-Step Recipe for a Magical Game:

1. Throw out the Monster Manual and throw out Mythology
2. Write up 10 new monsters in their place*

3. Throw out the spell lists
4.Write up 6 new spells for level 1-3 in their place*

5. Throw out the magic items and the ability to easily identify them
6. Write up 10 new magic items*

7. Make up 10 NPCs that could seamlessly be plugged into a Jack Vance novel (are smart, scheming ass holes only out for themselves)*

8. Use funny voices.

9. Have fun and don't take the game too seriously

*Add more of these as necessary

On the Sandbox (Again)

Being back to hitting the books and classrooms after a month-long break, I now have time in between classes with little else unproductive to do except blog to all of you about D&D. With the tentative date for the new campaign set to next Friday, I have some work cut out for me.

For now, I'd like to talk again about, in my mind, what exactly a sandbox is rather than chat is it not.

Let start off with the two most basic fundamentals of the sandbox: the Sand and, well, the Box.

The Sand, as I see it, are all of the miniscule building blocks from which a campaign is created. They are the individual monsters, the dungeon rooms, the NPCs - even the game rules fit in here. But not all types of sand are the same. The rough rocky sand of Belize of very different than that of the smoother particles here on the Oregon coast. The referee's job is job to design and create the sand. What types of monsters, dungeon rooms, NPCs, dungeon rooms, environments to smash together in order to create a semi-unified whole.

The Box, on the other hand, is the boundaries of the campaign. This could be the world, a set of planets, a region, a massive town and surrounding wilderness area, a megadungeon, (in my case) a single island, or whatever you want, really. The important thing is to HAVE a box. In my experience, the box is actually just as important as the sand - it's what keeps the players from floundering in a world of infinite and thus meaningless choices. Having 3 or 4 interesting and meaningful choices is often much more interesting that a plethora of ill defined ones.

The box is while the concept of a megadungeon works so well: the structure allows for meaningful choice. Whether you go left towards the howling noises beyond the portcullis or into the statue-filled hall IS a meaningful and, more importantly, a fun choice. As is whether or not to sit upon the bone-incrusted throne.

In my experience, the bigger the box, the less meaningful and abstract the choices.

This doesn't mean the box can't be expanded later, by the way, just that it is defined at a certain point in time and updated regularly. Quality over quantity of choices is the key. That being said, make sure there is still room for undefined, player-driven choices as well and that the choices the players are making are meaningful and don't all lead to the same end. The perception of choice is not actually choice at all and makes for a very shallow campaign.

[Rant over.]

So once you have the basic composition of the Sand and the Box, it's time to Shape. Cause face it, what more interesting a sand of sand waiting to be played with or someone's elaborate sand castle ready to jumped on and toppled to the group? I think the latter. To me, it's the referee's job to make the first castles, pits, stick-figures, and shape the sand in an interesting way that will produce interesting choices and reactions from the future players.

From there it is up to the players to interact and change the shape and form of the sand within the box through the choices they make through Play. (Since you're taking time out of your life to read a gaming blog, I just going to assume you understand this one already.)

Finally, and here's the kicker, you need to Revise. Between each session, it's important to keep the world up to date and react to the choices the players make during play. This is the most important step in making player choice matter - the world reacts to it in a way that is predestined by the referee. The process should be organic rather than contrived. So if the players take over a keep, how to the peasants respond? How do the lord of the neighboring towns respond? And they shouldn't all respond in the same way. Maybe one lord wants to make an alliance, another all-out war, and another want to manipulate the PCs for his own means.

The most important concept of revision to keep in mind, however, is that revision should lead to further choices. Yes, this may seem railroad and arbitrary - IT IS - but so are random tables. At some point, you have to figure out what results go on those tables, after all. At some point, you have to make a decision. That's what being a referee is, making the ultimate call. Learn it. Love it. Embrace it. BUT DON'T GET CARRIED AWAY WITH IT - don't let your own agenda (predestined ending) get in the way. It's all about the players, after all.

So, to view: Sand. Box. Shape. Play. Revise.