Thursday, September 24, 2015

At a Glance - C&C Players Handbook, Morgansfort, and Monsters, Magic & Sorcery II

A few thoughts about some new arrivals that I have had time to skim, but not thoroughly read. All are quite different, but each is interesting and worthwhile in its own right.

Castles & Crusades: Players Handbook (Troll Lord Games.- 2014)
This OSR book is an extremely professional looking book, with great artwork, a clear layout, good binding, really it looks flawless. If you thought of it as a glossy re-envisioning of the original Players Handbook, you wouldn't far off.  It would make an easy substitute for the 1e Players Handbook, but as such, there isn't much really new. Still, it is pretty awesome so, at a glance, I have to give it a thumbs up

Morgansfort: The Western Lands Campaign (Basic Fantasy - 2006-2014)
 I love Basic Fantasy as a great first game for newbies, regardless of rather they move on to other games or not. For roughly $10, you could get the core rulebook, a monster book, and this campaign adventure. This module looks well organized with some descent old school style art. At $3.50 for 68 pages, you cant go wrong. It even 2 1/2 pages of a basic world setting making

Monsters, Magic & Sorcery II (Unicorn Game Publications - 1992)
For Quest of the Ancients, a somewhat AD&D like game, this 80 page booklet contains new monsters and magic items for that game. At a glance, the monster section is mildly interesting, though many appeared earlier in 1e behir (MM2), black annis (annis MM2), cat, faerie (elfin cat MM2), centipede, giant (MM), etc. Many of the new creatures are interesting enough, some would be worth converting to whatever system you are using. There is only limited art in this and though the art is mostly well drawn, much of it transferred poorly and looks like an old photocopy.

Just by reading a few of the magic item descriptions, I've come the conclusion that this section is a goldmine for any GM. Well thought out and described , these items would work in most campaigns.  I should mention that this is the only RPG item that I've ever gotten by accident. I ordered Monsters, Magic & Sorcery I but the seller had mislabeled it. Still, it's a keeper.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Unusual Gaming Inspiration - Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) by Jared Diamond would certainly would seem an odd choice for an RPG blog but it raises interesting ideas that could serve as inspiration when populating a newly created world (or newly discovered continent).

In this book, Diamond posits the idea that the availability that large animals that easily domesticated and of good grains and pulses in an area is the primary determining factor in the rate at which societies transform from hunter-gatherers to settled food producers.  He also argues that this allows for much higher population densities and the specialization of labor, two factors critical for the development of  technology higher than stone-age tools. Diamond also shows technology spreads through diffusion to neighboring societies in inverse proportion to their degree of isolation.

Interesting enough, but how can this be useful in a role-playing game?  While this idea would certainly be of very limited use in an ongoing campaign, However, these theories about  the distribution of technology can aid a game master in world creation.

If a world in which the technology levels are relatively even, then the GM can assume a widely diverse group of easily domesticated grains and pulses grow on each continent and that there are also large, easily domesticated animals on each one. Without both of these, a society would advance much more slowly and have less incentive to move away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

For example, lets say that a GM has an ongoing campaign and wants to add a large island (roughly the size of New Zealand's North Island) on which there are the ruins of an ancient civilization and living dinosaurs. The GM has located this island roughly half-way between two large continents, one with a medieval European style society, the second with a medieval Asian style society.  The GM wants there to be people on the island to be able to lead the characters to the ruins, but doesn't know what there society should be like. First, the GM should determine how isolated this island is. In this case the island is extremely isolated with it lying outside the shipping lanes between the two continents, which are rarely used. Because of this, the inhabitants of the island will have been limited to whatever technology they brought with them (almost certainly good stone age technology) and what they developed there. 

Next, following Guns, Germs, and Steel, the GM should look look at potential food sources. Because there was a civilization developed enough to leave ruins behind, there was very likely at least one good grain or pulse available, but the size of the island makes it extremely unlikely that there were many. As for there being large easily domesticated animals, the obvious answer is no. With the island being home to dinosaurs, no large mammals or birds are likely to have evolved leaving only the dinosaurs which would been far to aggressive to domesticate, though a few may have been a few charmed or even tamed. This leaves us with a civilization that at its peak was depended upon a very limited number of grains (likely supplemented by fruits and vegetables which are great but don't store well) with no large mammals. While there may have been a few chickens, hunting will have likely been the main source of meat. The lack of large mammals to pull plows, carts, etc. and the reliance on hunting would make the society more labor intensive and allow for fewer individuals being able to specialize in anything other than food production/gathering. Fewer specialists means much slower development of technology. This society, while advanced enough to leave ruins, was very unlikely to have advanced beyond stone tools (obsidian if the island is volcanic) and beaten copper jewelry. From this we have an isolated society that in some ways may have resembled the ancient Mayans.

This leaves two important questions. How did a stone age civilization arise on an island  overrun by dinosaurs and why did it fall? The first, although it would be utterly impossible in a mundane world, is easy in a fantasy world. Magic! Only if the inhabitants had powerful magic when they arrived could they ever advanced beyond terrified hunter/gatherers living in caves to avoid the larger dinosaurs. Interestingly, the game system being used might make a difference here. In most old school systems, this would mean that the society was literate and that there will likely be magic scrolls (not necessarily rolled or on paper), spellbooks, maps, glyphs, etc. for treasure. However, if the game system allows sorcerers, there is no absolute need for literacy and it would be completely up to the GM to decide. Regardless, this means that these ruins will likely have many magic items and magical traps, but only simple mechanical traps.

For the second question, Guns, Germs, and Steel and Mesoamerican history provide the easy answer. Crop failure. Being dependent on a single grain, a society could not survive it failing for a few years. At some point in the distant past, a crop failure occurred, likely a crop disease that greatly reduced food production. As the people starved they turned against their magic user leaders and slaughtered them, and in the process left their civilization defenseless against dinosaurs. The few survivors would have had no choice but to adopt a hunter-gatherer lifestyle going wherever the food was and learning how to avoid the dinosaurs.

When the characters arrive, they will find an extremely primitive people who have become experts in stealth to avoid being eaten. They will know where all the ruins are and know which ones are safe to hide in and which are dangerous (magic traps, undead, etc.). One complication that might cause distrust between the characters and the locals is that they will have far less resistance to disease than the characters and anyone who accompanies them (sailors if they arrive on a ship). Because most dangerous diseases have their origins in domesticated animals and the locals have not been exposed to them for millennia, if ever, they will not have the resistance that people from more developed societies (the characters) have. And although primitive, the locals are not stupid and will draw logical, though wrong, conclusions. Strangers arrive, we help them, we are struck by a curse, therefore the gods are angry that we helped them.

From just a few very basic concepts, isolated but inhabited island, dinosaurs, and ancient ruins,  Guns, Germs, and Steel has helped to flesh out the beginning of what could be a fairly original and logically consistent adventure or campaign. This book was both a best seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner, which means that it will be available in most libraries for the frugal game master.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Germican Stench Rat

It's been far too long since I posted anything and hope to be a bit better in the future. I'm currently working on the sequel to PO-1: The Stolen Child which is taking far loner than I had hoped. In the meantime here's a new Old School Monster.


Germican Stench Rat

Frequency:                              Rare
No. Encountered:                    1-12
Size:                                        Small
Move:                                      12"
Armour Class:                         4
Hit Dice:                                 1-4 Hit points
Attacks:                                   1
Damage:                                  1-2
Special Attacks:                      Stench
Special Defenses:                   Charm
Magic Resistance:                  Standard
Lair Probability:                     10%
Treasure:                                 None
Intelligence:                            Animal
Alignment:                              Chaotic Neutral
Level/XP:                                1/9+1/hp

This seemingly minor nuisance would be viewed as just another breed of giant rat, of which it slightly smaller and less intelligent than, if it weren't for two unfortunate qualities.The first of these is the more obnoxious. At the start of every encounter, a germican stench rat will release a cloud of gas that exactly duplicates the second level magic user spell stinking cloud, except the range is zero. This sulfur-smelling cloud is full of germs and has a 5% chance of infecting anyone within its radius with a serious disease(as a rat bite). A successful saving throw versus poison prevents infection.

The annoying pest has survived not by its wits but by its unusual charm abilities. For some mysterious reason, sentient beings with intelligence scores less than nine inevitably mistake it for a small dog and beings with wisdom scores less than nine tend to find it cute. Either of these makes a potential victim vulnerable to the stench rat's charm ability. If the potential victim fails its saving throw, it will find the rat "adorable" and adopt it as a pet. At first this might seem relatively harmless as the stench rat is naturally tame. However, the stench rat is a lousy companion in a dungeon. At the slightest noise, the germican stench rat will begin growling and making a loud annoying sound that vaguely resembles high pitched barking, making surprise impossible. Even worse, the stench rat's gas cloud is not completely under its control and there is a 1 in 12 chance of it accidentally gassing  the party each hour. And in the event of an encounter, it will forget that its new friends aren't immune and will launch its gas attack immediately. Due to its insanity, a stench rat never needs to make a morale check or save vs fear, though it enjoys antagonizing dangerous monsters then "hiding" behind its owner.

If taken home the stench rat will have its 1 in 12 chance of it accidentally gassing and it will reveal another unfortunate characteristic, its tendency to destroy any paper product it can find. It especially likes scrolls and spellbooks and left unsupervised will chew them up. Any unsupervised germican stench rat will have a 10% chance of destroying one of these each hour. Only if there are none in the house or they are all magically secured will they be safe. If the stench rat destroys something especially important to the owner, such as a spellbook, it is allowed a new saving throw against its charm.

Sages are uncertain as to the relationship between giant rats (Rattus Sumatracus) and germican stench rats (Rattus Peeyewicus) but suspect the latter are descended from an especially smelly subgroup of the former. They have no value.
Everything between the lines, except the photograph, is released as open game content. The photo is not open game content. There is no additional product identity.