Happy Thanksgiving!

Take care, drive safe, and enjoy time with those close to you!



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The Song of Samael

Of course, the other joy (and Lovecraftian tradition) of Call of Cthulhu is making up your own eldritch tomes full of mind-shattering cosmic horror. The following is what I came up with as an alternative to the Necronomicon for a multivalent “ultimate tome of horror” – I generally prefer a game that is more focused on the Elder Gods rather than the Great Old Ones, and even when I focus on the GOO’s I shy away from Cthulhu because he tends to be done to death.  In any case, as with the Oer Linda Book, part of the fun with doing this sort of thing is detailing out the various versions of the book through the ages. With a Necronomicon-like book this is (as you see below) much more than the simple editions (which is essentially what the Oer Linda Book was written up as). This is a collection of closely related tomes which all deal with the same eldritch mystery across both time and cultures. I actually have notes on three or four more related texts (including at least two more modern ones, this was originally written for a Classic Era campaign) that I haven’t detailed yet, those will form a new post in the future.


The Song of Samael

Song of Samael is a complex allegory poem that is considered one of the great lost Gnostic source materials. It discusses the great song of creation and destruction that the Demiurge, the great blind God, sings as surrounded by his servants at the center of Creation – in the chaos that comes without awareness or wisdom. Portions deal with the place of humanity in creation, the nature of the four-fold world, and the multiple emanations of the Demiuge that both plague and inspire humanity, through the Fall of Man as well as the hope of his Apotheosis. Some scholars have recently questioned a possible connection between the Song of Samael and the Massa di Requiem per Shuggay though no definitive proof has ever been unearthed. Similar relationships have been posited with the Dhol Chants.


Singing Across the Centuries: A Historical Analysis of the Song of Samael.

Produced shortly before the Great War in 1911, this text was derived from the doctoral thesis of Dr. Samuel J. Wight, who is currently associated with the newly created Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Obscure in nature, it is generally only found on the shelves of university libraries, though a few have found their way into private hands.

  • (English: Sanity: -1/-1d3, Unnatural: +3, Occult, Anthropology, & History Checks, 3 Weeks)
  • No Spells


Joachim Feery’s Notes on the Canticum Yaldabaoth:

One of Mr. Feery’s last pamphlets, this was published in English in 1903. Similar to his Notes on the Necronomnicon, this consists primarily of translated portions of the Latin text with a series of annotations and footnotes.

  • (English: Sanity: -1d3/-1d6, Unnatural: +4, Occult: +2, 6 Weeks)
  • No Spells


The Song of the Creator

Translated in 1900 from the Greek Āisma Dēmiourgos by Dr. W. J. Spencer-Knowles, it was the culmination of a twenty project on his part at the end of his career. Considered a brilliant and accurate translation, though often disturbing due to bleak projections on the nature of the universe, a freak fire destroyed most of the copies at the printers and there has been little demand for another printing run. Thirteen copies are thought to have survived, which are found in university libraries for the most part.

  • (English: Sanity: -1d6/-2d6, Unnatural: +5, Occult: +2, 12 Weeks)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Daoloth, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Vorvados, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling


The Song of Bind God Sammael – Hear the Roar of the Lion-Faced Serpent

Privately published in London in 1898, the author remains unknown. The run of one-hundred and one volumes bound in black leather and printed in a curious silver ink is difficult to read and a comparison of the different volumes shows subtle differences. It is unknown if this is purposeful or if it is a printing error. Given the generally high quality of the printing it is thought that there is some meaning to the differences though no-one has ever managed to gather to enough of different volumes together to manage viable a textual analysis. This translation seems to derive from a combination of the Greek and Latin texts, and there is little else in the text other than a somewhat terse introduction and some fragmentary footnotes.

  • (English: Sanity: -1d3/-1d6, Unnatural: +8, Occult: +5, 12 Weeks)
  • Spells: Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Vorvados, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling, Elder Sign, Voorish Sign


Ballade du Dieu Aveugle

Transcribed in 1354 by the Comte de Montange, the “Ballad of the Blind God” during the terrible times of the Black Death after listening to cries of the dying in the rural regions around Langeudoc. This octavo was barely published before being denounced by the church, with all copies banned and then many burned. A significant number survived however in the hands of the Inquisition as they searched out similar sources of heresy, and a similar number remained in private hands as well.

  • (French: Sanity: -1d4/-2d4, Unnatural: +3, Occult: +3, 20 Weeks)
  • Spells: Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling


Testament des Zeichens der Löwe-Gesicht Schlange

This 917 version is a handmade copy of a now lost version that dated from the time of Charlemagne. The “Testament of the Sign of the Lion-Face Serpent” was ordered by the Holy Roman Emperor himself. It records the tale of the destruction of a pagan cult of blind singers by the warriors of Charlemagne and the interrogation of the few survivors. Replete with details of human sacrifice, sexual perversity, and bestiality it has always had an unsavory reputation. Only three copies are known to exist, one in private hands and one each in library of the University of Munich and Heidelberg. Rumors persist that the original is contained within the Z Collection of the Vatican Library.

  • (Old High German: Sanity: -1d4/-2d4 Unnatural: +6, Occult +6, 30 Weeks)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Nyarlathotep, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Tzulscha, Contact Yog-Sothoth, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling


Canticum Yaldabaoth

This version, the “Song of the Son of Chaos” dates to the Crisis of the Third century, and was recorded by members of Imperial Cult who saw the changes and chaos of Imperial Rome and its court as endemic of the Emperors. It’s authorship is attributed to Vibius Lartius Priscus, a black magician and sorcerer of that time period. The earliest known manuscript has been dated to the reign of Philip the Arab (244-249 C.E.), and is usually dated to 248. Speculation remains rampant among scholars as to the possible association of the Philip the Arab in the establishment of the Yaldabaoth Cult. Secret and hidden, some scholars suggest that it is a resurgence or survivor of the Imperial Cults associated with Caligula and Nero while others insist that Philip brought it to Rome from Persia. The British Museum and the Huntington Library in California are known to have copies, as does the Z Collection of the Vatican. At least two copies are known to be held in private collections. There was an excellent copy at the University of Prague prior to the Great War but it disappeared during the conflict.

  • (Latin: Sanity: -1d6/-2d6, Unnatural: +9, Occult: +4, 36 Weeks)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Daoloth, Call/Dismiss Nyarlathotep, Call/, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Tzulscha, Contact Yog-Sothoth, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling


Āisma Dēmiourgos

Fragments of this version, which translates as the “Song of the Demiurge” date to the chaos of the Persian invasions around 500 B.C.E. Contemporary accounts speak of the hymns of damned priests from Persia in the vanguard of some of the Persian armies, as well as their unholy rites and orgiastic frenzies that they indulged in. Written and recorded by scholar Argyros the Delian with a series of commentaries on the Greco-Persian Wars, this work is a gigantic and complex text that includes a significant alternate history of the Delian League and elements of the Persian Court. Hints at terrible alliances within the Greeks and foul bloodlines among the Persians run concurrent with the Argyros’ rendition of the Song of the Demiurge. Copes of this are exceedingly rare, the only complete one known being held at the British Museum.

  • (Ancient Greek: Sanity: -1d6/-2d6, Unnatural: +10, Occult: +5, 52 Weeks, History Check)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Daoloth, Call/Dismiss Nyarlathotep, Call Vorvados, Call/Dismiss Yog-Sothoth, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Tzulscha, Contact Vorvados, Contact Yog-Sothoth, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling, Elder Sign, Eye of Light and Darkness, Vach-Viraj Incantation, Voorish Sign


Shir Ha-Samael

The original and lost version of the Song of Samael, there are several scholars who are positive that this version is forever lost though fragments have been found that confirm its existence. There are obscure references to this song throughout many obscure texts and it scholars believe that the original Shir Ha Samael dates to roughly 1000 B.C.E. Abd al-Azrad mentions in the Kitab Al-Azif to listening to a choir of 666 blind monks and nuns who sang “hymns to the daemon sultan” accompanied by unseen flautists who piped with maddening monotony in the nights of the Empty Quarter. Knowledgeable occultists agree that this is a reference to the dreaded Song of Samael.

  • (Ancient Aramaic: Sanity: -1d8/-2d8, Mythos: +13, Occult: +6, 64 Weeks)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Azathoth, Call/Dismiss Daoloth, Call/Dismiss Nyarlathotep, Call/Dismiss Tulzscha, Call/Dismiss Yog-Sothoth, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Tzulscha, Contact Yog-Sothoth, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling
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Ship Computers, Generate Programs, and Jump Cassettes

So, I had a thought because there has been an ongoing discussion on the COTI Forum (“Citizens of the Imperium” – the official Traveller forum) regarding a bit of Classic Traveller electronics, the Jump Cassette. It part of the ongoing discussion regarding ProtoTraveller and RAW Traveller, all of which is has been informing my own internal thoughts regarding what I want my Traveller universe to look like next time around.

Building off of the other discussion, it is worth noting that “engine-wise” you could build a ship that does Jump-6 the moment you discover Jump Drive. The limit comes in to two ways – you can build ships of a limited size, and you can only build a computer of limited power.

  1. So as ship size increases, it gets “slower” with the same size drive. Rather than “slower” it is “limited to the jumpspace it can penetrate” – and the jumpspace determines how far the ship travels in the week spent there. So, an A-Drive can move a 100dton ship Jump-2, and a 200dton ship Jump-1, while a D-Drive can move a 100dton ship Jump-6 and an 800dton ship Jump-1 – at the other end of the scale, a few hundred years of development later, is the Z-Drive which can move an 800dton ship Jump-6 and a 5000dton ship Jump-2. With the “extrapolation” I talked about earlier, I moved that size up to 10,000dtons for Jump-1 with a z-Drive.
  2. At the same time as Jump Drive is invented, computers reach small size and enough power that you can fit into a ship that can use (and potentially calculate) Jump Coordinates. The limit here is that the best that they can do is Jump-2. So while you can build a 800dton hull, the biggest ship you can build that can do is 400dtons – all despite the fact that if you were able to buy and install a more powerful computer later, you could install that D-Drive on a 100dton ship and get deep enough to travel Jump-6.

Now, “computers” are one of those parts of Traveller that have been horribly and justifiably ridiculed over the years. Their sizes and capabilities are, well, based on 1970’s mainframes – the cutting edge of technology when the game was first written. Over time, “ship computer” has been retconned into including sensors and a certain amount of C3 (Command, Control, Communications) but it can still be hard to swallow some of the numbers used. They also date from the time when, yes, oh younger readers, people used cassettes to record and save data, and when computers often weren’t able to do very many things at a one time…

So a ship’s computer could be equipped with a “Generate” program, which is what allowed a Navigator (or Astrogator is you prefer) uses to calculate and “generate” the plot of the Jump route. However, especially with those “early computers” that might be the only thing the computer was able to run, no Gunnery, no Maneuver, heck maybe not even Jump itself.

Plus, the players might not even be able to afford the Generate program to start off with! The computers and programs were talking about are “enterprise-level” technology, not a laptop hooking up to a network (more like mainframes). So, what they were able to do was a buy a one-shot “Jump Cassette” that gave them one-way plotted coordinates to a single system. I haven’t checked, but I think these somewhat disappeared in MegaTraveller and Traveller: The New Era, and Mongoose Traveller, but in T5 they were back – with the ability to use them multiple times (just making the Jump more difficult each time until on the 6th use it was an automatic misjump).

I like this because it dovetails with the idea of the “Jump Rutter” – perhaps there is some way to model very, very slow calculations that don’t use the Generate program but instead involve laborious calculations with the normal computational power of the ship’s computer but sans the specific algorithms and database that the Generate program contains. It also suggests the existence of a psychic talent that allows instantaneous Jump Calculations ala the Pilgrims from Wing Commander.

Given the default anti-psionic attitudes inherent in the RAW, this creates a couple of interesting potential plot points immediately…

So, using a Generate program, creating a Jump Plot normally takes 10-60 minutes, we could simply say that going by hand, using a Jump Rutter, takes two time increments of time slower, or that it takes 6-24 hours (hmmm… I that table might mean 6-36 hours instead….) instead and is a Formidable task (an additional -6 to the roll). So, you can pay for a Jump Cassette, or pray that the Astrogator is as good as he promised when you hired him…






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Jumping, Jump Masking, and Jump Shadowing

So, as I delve into ProtoTraveller I am confronted by the issue of Jumping – and will ignore (for the moment) Mongoose Traveller’s introduction of Warp Travel and Hyperspace.

Jumping is the Traveller term for Interstellar travel. Ships use Jumpspace to travel faster-than-light, with certain strictures.

  1. All Jumps last roughly one week in length (with variance measured in hours, rather than days). Anything else is a sign of a Misjump.
    • Okay, one quick diversion to Warp Travel and Hyperdrive from Mongoose Traveller. These both, as per the MgT RAW, speed up travel to be measured in days rather than weeks.
  2. Jumps are limited in distance, with the distance being determined by the tech level of the ship.
    • The original game and all editions up to T5 limited travel to Jump-6, this meant that in one week, the ship will travel six parsecs. Jump-1, the ships travels one parsec in one week. This was probably ignored in house rules as much as it was rigorously enforced – gamers being gamers.
    • In T5 (the much maligned Traveller 5th Edition, though not nearly as maligned as Traveller: The New Era) Jump goes up to 9, and Hop and Skip are introduced which scale up by factors of 10x and 100x respectively. These both, as well as the post-6 Jump numbers, occur only at much higher technological levels.
    • Misjumps can be up to Jump-36 in distance (or even longer with Referee fiat), rolled 1d6x1d6 when it is determined that a Misjump has occurred.
    • This suggested different levels or dimensions of Jumpspace, mostly by making sense of the Small Ship Universe ship construction system as compared to the Big Ship Universe.
  3. Entering or leaving Jumpspace is impacted by gravity wells -often causing Misjumps or a violent exit from Jumpspace.
    • In the game this meant that you had to travel “100 Diameters” from a planets surface before you could safely Jump. Technically you could Jump 10 Diameters out from the surface, but it was more difficult and dangerous.
    • Technically speaking, as people have extrapolated across the years (and editions) this also means that gravity wells of ships and stars. For ships, the distances are generally too miniscule to worry about (but the question is inevitably raised when someone wants to Jump a ship that is in larger ship’s hold, usually because they are captured by pirates). While stars… well that just tends to get ignored – unless you (like me) tend towards the OCD.
      • A professor of mine in grad school said that in order to be successful in grad school you had to at least a touch OCD. The key, as he put it, was to keep in on the Obsessive side instead of the Compulsive.
    • Some argument has existed as to if Jumps needed to start and end in a star system (essentially that ships used the gravity well of a system to “catch themselves” out of Jumpspace). This came from the old Imperium boardgame where this was the case, and is evidently a canon bit of history. But technology evidently allows this to change – with scattered references to deep space refueling stations or other forms of calibration points.
  4. Starships must be at least 100 dtons in size.
    • An issue raised by the now utterly non-canon, but once (and still) questionable existence of “Jump Torps” – something that I love, but that seriously conflict with the canon OTU despite being listed in the old (and much loved) Adventure 4: Leviathan.
    • As an additional note, in standard Traveller Jump Fuel requires 10% of the ships volume per Jump Number – as a one-time expenditure. So Jump-6, that’s 60% of the ship allocated to a one-way trip.

That gets us to Jump Shadowing and Jump Masking, which were only explicitly described in Traveller: The New Era (in their search for gritty realism). Later, in the GURPS: Traveller Far Trader supplement is the first (and only to my recollection) rules for actually incorporating them into play.

Jump Masking is when significant interstellar body intersects the path of a ship in Jumpspace. Jump Shadowing is when the destination point of a Jump-travelling ship lies within a gravity well of an interstellar body.

It doesn’t seem to me to be that hard to do an idiot simple tweak to the Jump rules to handle both Jump Masking and Jump Shadowing – as well as incorporate a old idea into what also feels like a very ProtoTraveller setting.

In Mongoose Traveller, using the Astrogation skill to plot a Jump is normally an Easy (+4) Education check, modified by the Jump distance (so, -1 to -6). It effect this means that unless the attempt is rushed along it is probably always going to succeed. In ProtoTraveller the idea is that travel is somewhat dangerous. Think more like world travel before the advent of flight – maybe not as dangerous as the Middle Ages, but more in the nature of the 18th or 19th century.

So, let’s say that those rules (mostly) apply to well-mapped trade routes (we’ll get to that in a moment). It still doesn’t cover Masking and Shadowing – and here is the simple fix. For Jump Shadowing add a -1 Modifier for every star in the system while for Jump Masking, when plotting the Jump simply add a -1 modifier for every system that the route intersects.

Normally, Jump takes 148+6d6 hours. In the event of Jump Shadowing, if the navigator doesn’t wish to take the Difficulty penalty then instead add +6d6 hours of travel for every modifier for the Jump Shadowing that they wish to avoid. This represents them targeting a point further and further out to avoid the Jump Shadow – though at the expense of longer and longer in-system transit time.

Now we can also say that plotting a Jump to a Backwater system (off the Trade Routes)in the Core Worlds is a Routine Education check the same as Frontier systems on Trade Routes. Backwater systems in the Frontier are a Difficult Education check while truly unknown systems are Very Difficult Education checks to plot a course to.

This also has the effect of channeling travel around “dangerous systems” and towards “safer systems” – essentially “rocks, shoals, and reefs” for the Traveller system. That’s before we add in other potential effects for nebula, black holes, etc. It also means that you can really create “hidden bases” or “protected systems” because certain systems are just a huge pain in the ass to get to.

Now, in the “real world” navigators had “rutters” which were their private (and secret) notes and charts for navigational hazards. Anyone who has read or watched Shogun should be able to recall the discussion around the existence and the secrecy of these things. When we add in these sort of navigational hazards and complications the use and desirability of a “jump rutter” become apparent.

So, we could simply suggest that ship navigators keep and maintain “jump rutters” which they create (and pass on to apprentices, or family members in the case of Free Traders). Through experience in Jumping to various systems navigators can essentially create their Trade Routes, even their own “Core Worlds” with enough time and enough Jumps.

This also explains why (or how) the small Free Traders and Tramp Freighters maintain a viable economic presence. They are the only ones that know the safe routes to the Backwater and Frontier worlds. Similarly, it also explains how pirates manage to exist and remain viable – they haunt the long spaces where ships avoiding Jump Shadow travel, and have found “secret asteroid or nebula bases” where they can hide in safety.






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Lost to Shadow – the Shades

Most sages agree that Shades are, or more accurately were, normal people who, through arcane magic or dark science, traded thier souls or spirits for the essence of shadowstuff. Others suggest instead that Shades are cursed by the Unborn or the Witches of the Shadowlands, perhaps even the High Lord himself, while yet others insist that Shades are not what they appear to be at all, and are instead some alien creature masquerading in familiar forms. In any case, the method of turning a creature (any human, humanoid, or demihuman with a spirit or soul) into a Shade has been lost for centuries.

Shades are readily identifiable by the learned and the wise due to their dusky grey skin, and their eyes, which have no white but instead have a dark grey or purple iris and pupil. They tend to prefer clothing of greys and blacks, and rarely wear brightly colored clothing or jewelry. The transformation brings about a gloomy broodiness, for the Shadowlands weighs heavily upon them. The most ancient among them have great power and respect in the Shadowlands, but they are feared as well, and they must all maintain constant vigilance against those that seek to harm or control them. The wise Shade quickly learns to trust no one, especially another Shade.

  • Shade Sight: The character can see in Dim Light as if it were Bright Light.
  • Mask of Shadows: The character can Hide in Dim Light as a Bonus Action.
  • One With Shadows: The character has Advantage when in Dim Light.
  • Unnatural Vitality: The character does not age as normal, and they are Immune to Disease. The character has Resistance to Poison, and they will regrow lost body parts (save their head) in 1d4 weeks if they stay in Dim Light or Darkness for the entire period. If slain the character will dissipates into Shadows and reappear in Great Realm of the Shadowlands where they must stay for a year and day while they regain their strength and vitality. In Dim Light the character automatically Stabilizes upon reaching zero hit points, and doubles the hit points regained from each Hit Die spent.
  • Shadowstrider: At 3rd level, when in Dim Light, the Shade is under the benefit of a Longstrider spell – the effectiveness of which increases by 10′ per maximum spell level.
  • Shadowstep: Gathering existing Shadows around themselves, at 5th level the character may Teleport up to 30′ away to an unoccupied space that they can see as long as it is in Dim Light. This range increases by 10′ per maximum spell level. This ability may be used again after a Long Rest.
  • Gloomcalling: At 7th Level, the character may summon forth a deep gloom, blanketing a 20′ radius of Bright Light in conditions of Dim Light that creates a heavily obscured area. The radius increases by 10′ per maximum spell level. This may be used again after a Long Rest.
  • Shadowpath: At 11th level the character, in conditions of Dim Light, can travel to the Great Realm of the Shadowland. This takes one round and Concentration. This ability may be used again after a Long Rest.
  • Light Sensitivity: Bound as they are to the Shadowlands, the character is at Disadvantage for all activities in conditions of Bright Light. Shades are Vulnerable to Radiant damage, and they may not heal naturally while in Bright Light.
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So I promised one of my players a short discussion on multiclassing in 5e, along with some guidelines into what is involved in doing so. First, one of the things I like about 5e is that the combination of race, class, and archtype fundamentally removes some of the reasons for multiclassing that were found in 1e. You can play a roguish spell-casting warrior half-elf, or a dwarven soldier-priest, or a elven mage who wields a puissant longsword pretty easily just with the basic game mechanics. Add in feats and this only increases the ability to tweak the flavor of a character pretty easily.

But multiclassing goes one step further, so that you get the class features of two classes, though you don’t get the starting skills of the subsequent classes and weapons and armor skills may or may not be restricted. Mechanically it is also more like 1e “dual-classing” which used to be restricted to humans only, but is now available to everyone unlike the old 1e multiclassing which was simultaneous advancement across two or three classes.. It is a clearly stated optional feature available at the discretion of the Dungeon Master, but I see no problem in allowing it per se, just with how it gets presented a bit in Players Handbook.

In 5e, as long as you can some very basic statistic requirements (which are not even as high as they were in 1e) the implication is that you simply get to decide upon making a new level, if you want to take the level in your current class or if you want to take it a new class. Yes, there is some flavor text about “hanging out with the new class lately” but the implication is that this is an relatively off-the-cuff decision on the player/characters part.

That… I don’t exactly agree with.

I certainly agree that some of character classes are pretty simple to switch into – especially in the 5e with the use of skills as opposed to many things being inherent to a character class. So, you want to switch over to Fighter or Rogue? Those are, in my mind, probably the only two classes that have no requirements other than the basic ones mentioned in the Players Handbook for doing so. They both represent relatively basic skill sets at 1st level, that are then refined and developed.

After this however, the classes all have some particular focus or inherent skill set that required varying levels or dedication or training to even get to first level (and that’s before we even address the whole 5e idea that character classes are fundamentally special and unique beyond the ken even many NPC’s – which is horseshit in my opinion, btw). The next easiest is probably the Warlock – all you need to do is make a Pact, and you’re a Warlock. So if you want to roleplay out getting a Patron, becoming a Warlock is pretty easy.

Sorcerer’s are a similar case – they simply need a good reason why a new “inborn” magical ability manifests. This isn’t a freebee in my campaign, but if someone really wants to play a sorcerer I have no problem in figuring something out. This might require some roleplaying, ok, probably it will, but explaining away suddenly becoming a Sorcerer is relatively easy in the grand scheme of things. Objectively this class is arguably the “hardest” to switch to because it is supposedly fundamental aspects or inborn traits of the characters, but gaming logic and character experience usually provide ample fodder for such things manifesting. Case in point, Fonkin’s new level is in Sorcerer, and he had to take the new Shadowed Bloodline – but this makes perfect sense given what happened to the character.

Next up are Clerics, Druids, and Paladins. All a character fundamentally needs is a genuine connection to Deity and a Calling  and they have the most important thing (that they really can’t be without). Now, that said, most Callings involve training through a religious institution (the Church of the Lords of Light, the Druidic Orders, the En Khoda Theos Kirk, etc) so that you are recognized clergy as opposed to a wild-eyed (potential) heretic – plus so that you can actually do a good job of being clergy.

At some point I suppose I could rant about the training involved in Master’s level programs vs. Doctoral-level programs Divinity schools in the real world. But suffice to say that there is more to being clergy than an initiation… The end result is that, with rare exceptions, if you want to multiclass as a Cleric, Druid, or Paladin, you need to spend some time studying at seminary or the equivalent, probably between six months and a year. This is more than simply Downtime Activities, and probably requires taking some time away from adventuring – unless you’ve been role-playing the heck out of this and been using your Downtime Activities for this purpose. Also be prepared for some very close attention being paid to you by your mentors and superiors in “the Church” as they try to make sure you don’t screw too much up as you figure out this new vocation.

Barbarians, Bards, and Rangers are the next tier, but for somewhat different reasons. Barbarians have to tap into their rage, Bards have a fair amount of study and learning(both mundane and magical), and Rangers have a deep connection to land plus some magical study. None of this comes easy, and the class features and flavor text all imply something that needs to be nurtured over the course of time via study and practice. Sure, with the right Background (much like with Cleric, Druid, and Paladin) some of this can be shortcut, but sans any divine act, you simply don’t just develop a Bard’s music skills, or a Ranger’s favored terrain, or even a Barbarian’s ability to focus their rage effectively. Again, we’re probably talking six months to a year of work on the characters part, in addition to Downtime Activities. I’m also likely to demand that you choose what your Totem, College, or Archtype will be “up front” so that the role-playing reflects that eventual focus on the characters part – it may not be graven in stone, but people need something fundamental to switch their class to one of these as opposed to simply picking up the right feats or skills.

Lastly  we have Monks and Wizards, both of whom are classes which are explicitly described as requiring years of disciplined study to even get to first level. You need to find someone to train you, you need to do the training, and the training can’t be interrupted by lots of adventuring. In general, expect to be away from the adventuring party for at least a year of game time. Sure, there might be some “Downtime Adventuring” (and roleplaying) but these characters are engaged in their “disciplined study” even if it is highly shortened due to their heroic nature.

Depending upon the final rules on Mystics they could either be like Warlocks & Sorcerers or they could be like Monks & Wizards. If someone really wanted to play a Witch Hunter I think I would treat them similar to Priests, Druids, and Paladins, and if there is an Alchemist or Engineer class that ever comes out I would probably treat it like Monks & Wizards.

It is worth noting that some races and classes don’t mix well at all (Dwarves and Wizards for example) while some work very well together (Khazan and Barbarian, Gnome and Ranger, Dragonborn and Sorcerer, to mention three). This may make things easier or harder when justifying or explaining how the multiclassing works. Similarly, some classes don’t play well together (Cleric and Warlock immediately spring to mind) while others seem like a natural fit (Ranger and Druid) – again this can create significant impediments to multiclassing or smooth the way considerably.

Lastly, this is fantasy game, so with a good enough story almost anything can happen. Characters have gone to Faerie and come back dual-classed as a Wizard having spent seven years there while a winter passed in the Mortal Realms while another switched from Cleric to Druid after meeting Dannan, and another switched from Fighter to Paladin. Now, these stories came with complications (and good rule of thumb is that the more shortcuts, the more complications) but roleplay well or do the right quests and there is usually a way to make things happen.



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The Small Ship Universe…

One of the great debates (among many debates, both great and not-so-great…) in the Traveller RPG universe is the Small Ship vs Big Ship universe.

The original Traveller rules (and a selection of “basic rules” since then) have a methodology for ship construction that caps ship sizes at around 5000 “displacement tons” (the volume of 1000kg of liquid hydrogen, or 14 cubic meters). That’s about, either, twice the size of a WW2 “Liberty” ship, or about half the size of the Titanic, roughly the size of the USS Arizona, or about 10 Los Angeles-class submarines, or about 500 tractor-trailers.

This is also known as the “Adventure Class Ships” in some quarters. It is based on roughly fixed (but easy to extrapolate) hull sizes, and fixed size engines and power plants, that become available at various tech levels, in conjunction with computers. Smaller ships can go faster, but this is also limited by computers – which provide the real limitation on interstellar speed. The drives can move ships faster than the computers can calculate at lower technological levels.

When then Book 5: High Guard came, it gave a radically new design and construction paradigm. Most notably, ships could be up to a million tons in displacement. Plus, engines and power plants are a percentage of space depending upon the performance desired, and interstellar speed is directly linked to tech level, not computer performance per se.

As can imagine, these are largely incompatible. The canon Traveller universe clearly converted over to a “Big Ship Universe” while keeping “Adventure Class Ships” around for the PC’s. There are reasons – the BSU model is far more thorough, and covers vastly more options for construction and wargaming. It also more closely parallels “real world” naval construction in that ships became bigger and bigger as materials science and propulsion technology has allowed.

One of the quirks of the SSU is that while larger sizes of ships became available with increased technological development, and faster interstellar travel, but faster came with a decrease in hull displacement – e.g. the ships get smaller when you want them to travel faster, with significant differences. This actually suggests some differences in a SSU version of Traveller from the BSU version.

The big one, in my mind, is that ship size is limited because by some other factor of the interstellar medium. Additionally, that this limiting factor is not merely a function or characteristic of interstellar travel (“Jump Space”) because the same size limitations apply to boats (non-starships) as well. Either that there is some life-sustaining quality of terrestrial existence that is lacking, or there is some additional threat that has not yet appeared in our (real-world) explorations of space. I tend to run with the idea that the starships in Traveller also maintain some sort of magnetic or biotic field that protects the inhabitants from prolonged exposure to dark matter (along with perhaps acting as a deflector for space dust and micrometeors).

Now, many of us that prefer a SSU would also prefer ships a bit bigger than 5000 dtons (that’s “displacement tons”) in size. Luckily there are some interesting extrapolations of the SSU ship construction rules that suggest that ships could get up to a 10,000 dtons. There is also a methodology in the Mongoose Traveller High Guard supplement that creates ships with up to six “sections” (for better damage tracking). I like using these both in conjunction with an additional idea that was meant to create faster “big ships” (on a SSU scale) but that I instead tweaked to allow these larger, multisectional ships that merely operate like the original SSU ships. The end result is ships IMTU (“In My Traveller Universe” as opposed to the “OTU” or “Official Traveller Universe”) up to 60,000 dtons in size (though they are, slow, slow, slow…).

But this lets me build ships big enough to transport an entire battalion of troops at a single time (important for campaign-related, flavor text reasons), as well as warships that are both impressive in size and utterly overpowering without being utterly ridiculous when compared to whatever ship the player group is likely to be travelling around in. Player-character types ships tend to be in the 100 dton to 400 dton (perhaps a bit larger if they are lucky), and this puts Corvettes in at around 300 dtons, Frigates around 700 dtons, Destroyers around 1000 dtons, and Cruisers in the 2000 to 3000 dton range.

Yeah, ok, I know… I know… get around to catching up on game logs…

Plus, rules for Shades for 5E.

Plus, I promised my players some guidelines about multiclassing.





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A different or additional resource management for magical items

I’ve been reading the new Dr. Strange comic (which I highly recommend if people like either comics or Dr. Strange) and then saw a splash panel elsewhere of the comic book character Ilyana Rasputin holding the Eye of Agamatto and thought about how many magic items are described as having a cost, or are exhausting to use. Now, currently D&D uses some combination of the X/uses between a Short/Long rest to describe this and that’s certainly a reasonable way to do so, but it also doesn’t capture the sense of “exhausting” that I’m thinking of.

One way to do this is by activations or uses casting Hit Points. The problem with this is that there is also a trope about some magic or magical items needed blood or wounds to be used and for all the talk about Hit Points representing more than physical damage, they are still closely linked to that in most players minds. So again, the flavor is off.

So, how about Exhaustion? There is actually a condition mechanic for this in 5E – my problem with this is that the Exhaustion condition is very debilitating to characters and with six levels of it you simply die. So while this is a valid use of the Exhaustion condition, I would want to save it for the most powerful (or cursed) of artifacts or effects because the penalties are likely to cause many players from using the item or effect in question.

What I had actually thought of was using Hit Dice!

This makes Hit Dice a multi-use resource (always a good thing in my mind) that forces a player to choose between “useful effect now” and “healing later”. It increases as levels go up (so high level characters have more uses, something that I’m a fan of). I also think that Hit Dice as a concept is removed enough from Hit Points in that it can be equated to “endurance” or “exhaustion” as opposed to damage – especially since Hit Dice are regained through Long Rests.

Hit Dice are also generic enough to conceptually valid for Arcane Magic, Divine Magic, and Psionics. The cost can even be scaled if the DM desires so that smaller effect costs 1HD while a large one might cost 5HD or whatever (also neatly creating a minimum level for certain uses). This also opens up the idea that some items might allow (or even require) multiple characters to contribute HD to create an effect (especially for those big and flashy ones).

There is also nothing preventing a DM from using both Hit Dice and Exhaustion for really powerful items – or simply as the limiting factor in low magic campaigns. One could create items that have a Hit Die cost over multiple Long Rests. Something like a 1HD cost each day while a multi-day effect is running, or a 5HD cost that decreases by one after each Rest (or Long Rest).

In any case, I hope someone out there can get some use out of this. I’m certainly going to experiment with it myself!


Categories: Game Design, House Rules, Magic Item | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Knifefighter Feat

So, watching the ads and the reveals for the new AMC show Into the Badlands has me wanting there to be a feat that creates the sort of crazy, knife-wielding warrior that bristles with sharp pointy things and who is yet not entirely unbalanced. It actually calls to mind the movie Exposure – which is well worth watching if you are interested in that sort of thing. One of the more accurate depictions of knife-fighting in a film that I’ve seen. 


The character has learned the “grand art” of the “Persevs” (street assassins), the skill to “perforate and sever” with smaller and more maneuverable weapons that are easily concealed and carried. This skill only works in melee combat, and only with weapons that have the Light or the Finesse qualities.

  • If attacking with Advantage, and the attack succeeds, then they gain an additional, Standard attack with that same weapon.
  • Upon making a successful Strike, but before rolling damage, the character may decide to embed the blade in their target. This means that the blade is left in the body of the target until after combat (it requires an Action, Reaction, or Bonus Action plus an Average Strength check to retrieve during combat), but does an additional +10 damage.

For anyone who has never studied knife-fighting, or never seen a video of a knife attack, the sheer speed and violence of one is rather horrifically amazing. The first ability represents this, as well as the sorts of “filleting” moves that you can find in some knife forms. The second ability is a bit more cinematic, but is also a bit of a nod to the idea that even a smaller weapon can be dramatically effective in the right hands – and that vital areas are often protected behind bone that weapons can be lodged in.

It also, incidentally, allows for the creation of a fantastic two-handed, cut & thrust (rapier and dagger) duelist character…

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Another Fun Piece of old Cthulhu Lore – The Oera Linda Book

There is a long and proud history of using real-world occult texts (and mystery texts, and plain old cypher texts) in the Call of Cthulhu RPG – as well as people using the titles of Lovecraftian tomes for real world texts in return. What this means is that it is actually relatively hard to find a book that hasn’t been used already. I stumbled over the Oer Linda Book years ago and found it perfect for a game I was running at the time. Links are included at the bottom for more information on the real-world editions.

The Oera Linda Book

An ancient manuscript that was held in the family of Over de Linden family for generations, its existence was revealed in 1867 by the master shipwright Cornelis Over de Linden who inherited it from his grandfather via his aunt. The book describes the destruction of Atland (Atlantis) in 2194 BCE, and the subsequent history of the Frisian people.

The book describes the history of a matriarchal culture of folk-mothers who rule over celibate priestesses of goddess Frya. This goddess generated through a series of virgin births twelve men and twelve women who formed the progenitors of the Fresian race. After living with the Fresians for seven generations and giving them a series of laws to live by, Fyra ascended to the stars of heaven while a terrible flood and nearly wiped out humanity and civilization. Favored by Heinrich Himmler, and sometimes referred to as “Himmler’s Bible” it posits a Northern European origin for several Middle-Eastern civilizations and includes a doctrine of racial purity.

The complete known text is comprised of three primary parts, the letter of Hidde Oera Linda (dating to 1256), The Book of Adela’s Followers (dating to the 6th Century BCE) which is compiled of contemporary and ancient writings, and Frya’s Tex (dating to 2194 BCE), which gives the laws as set down by the Goddess Fyra. Two additional sections are included towards the end of the book, the writings of Konered and Beden, but these are often incomplete and the book itself breaks off mid-sentence.

The Various Editions:

The Lost and Complete Version: A collection of loose pages in a folio, it is written in the same Old Fresian cipher as the 1256 Manuscript. Suitable to be found and used in Cthulhu: Dark Ages game…

  • (-1d6/-1d2 sanity; +2 Unnatural, +5 Occult, 21 weeks)
  • Contains: Contact Fryra (Yidhra), Fryra’s Blessing (Perfection), Fryya’s Mead (Brew Dream Drug), Fryya’s Message (Dream Vision)

Thet Oera Linda Bok (1256): The original manuscript consists of a series of loose pages, written in a cipher of Old Fresian. It is currently held in Tresoar, Frisian Historical and Literary Center in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands.

  • (-1d4/-1 sanity; +1 Unnatural, +5 Occult, 16 weeks)
  • Contains: Contact Fryra (Yidhra)

In 1872 the book was first translated and edited in Dutch as Thet Oera Linda Bok. Naar een uit de handwriting dertiende Eeuw by Dr. J.G Ottman, a prominent member of the Frisian Society for History and Culture, after being rejected by Eelco Verwijs, the provincial librarian of Friesland. It was published by H. Kuipers.

  • (-1d3/-0 sanity; +0 Unnatural, +4 Occult, no spells, 2 weeks)

Shortly thereafter, in 1876, William Sandbach translated the book into English, The Oera Linda Book: From a Manuscript of the Thirteenth Century, but worked strictly from the Dutch translation by Ottema, evidently never referring to the original, and having some heavy Christian biases. It was published by Trübner & Co.

  • (-1d2/-0 sanity; +1 Unnatural, +3 Occult, no spells, 2 weeks)

In 1933, Herman Wirth translated a version of the book into German, Die Ura-Linda-Chronik. Übersetzt und mit einer einführenden geschichtlichen Untersuchung. More propaganda than scholarship, this version is rife with additions and interpretations to support his already existing theories of Atlantis and Aryan origins. It was published by Koehler & Amelang. Note that rumors abound regarding the personalized and annotated copies of Wirth, Himmler, and other Nazi leadership.

  • (-1d4/-1 sanity; +1 Unnatural, +5 Occult, no spells, 1 week)

In the aftermath of World War II, the work was largely left alone until Robert Scutton translated a new abridged version in 1977, The Other Atlantis: Astounding revelations of the secrets of Atland, long-lost imperial capital of the North. In English with a lengthy commentary and introduction.

  • (-1d2/-0 sanity; +0 Unnatural, +2 Occult, no spells, 1 week)

Finally, since 1983, there has been a cheap and easy to find translation by Frank H. Pierce IV, commonly found and used by various and sundry occultists and Neo-Aryans as a research tool and support as it supposedly a complete and unbiased translation of the original. The Oera Linda Book: Translated from the Frisian

  • (-1d2/-0 sanity; +0 Unnatural, +2 Occult, no spells, 1 week)

The Wikipedia Entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oera_Linda_Book

Excellent site, with pictures of the entire original manuscript: http://www.oeralindaboek.nl/

The 1872 version: http://japicx.com/aisp/frisii/books/frisia/open_frisia.htm

Interesting site with pictures of the 1933 Wirth edition – and with an amusing bit of DGML connection…


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