Posts Tagged With: Old Race

So, what’s different about my world..?

With D&D 5E here, especially with the Monster Manual on hand, I’ve been kind of mentally reviewing what is different about my campaign world now that I’m trying to stay as close to the party line as possible.

  • Goblins! Instead of a million different humanoids I have goblins. In addition to normal, undersized Goblin Boggarts (which are hatched from eggs, kind of like in Harn) with their chiefs and shaman I have Hobgoblins as fully-grown, experienced goblins, Redcaps are elite goblins, and Black Goblins are sterile mules that are oversized shock troops. There are also the Border Goblins of the Shadowlands and the dreaded Ash Goblins with their Barghest leaders who serve the Lords of Dearth. Lastly, there are the Khazan, the Human-Goblin crossbreeds created during the Wars of Binding ages ago that live amongst both humans and goblins, vilified by the former and often leading the latter.
  • Trolls! Yeah, instead of Hill Giants and Stone Giants, I have big trolls kind of like Tolkien’s. There are Marsh Trolls, Forest Trolls, Hill Trolls, Rock Trolls, Cave Trolls, and Sea Trolls. Rock and Forest Trolls are actually pretty civilized, while Marsh, Hill and Cave Trolls are primitive and either live in isolated family groups or live in service to various powerful personages. Trolls are often the biggest and baddest creatures that a group is likely to see – Ogres  being much more common with their noble Fir Bolg, “High Ogre” antecedents less common but not unheard of while Giants (Formorian or Mountain) are relatively rare. It’s worth noting that one can also find Half-Trolls (and Half-Ogres for that matter) also, but they are rarer than Trolls themselves given the difficulty in birthing the child.
  • Demons! My demons are elementals corrupted by exposure to the Dearth aka the Five Demon Emperors (aka Lovecraftian elder gods). So, as a result, there are Pyrodemons, Hydrodemons, Aerodemons, and Terrademons. There are also a whole variety of Dire Beasts, which are similarly corrupted animals and creatures. You want terrifying? Find out you have to fight a Dire Troll, or worse yet, a Dire Drake of some sort. Demons and the forces of the Dearth are the one thing pretty much everyone bands together to fight, good or evil. In fact, the two greatest schisms of the universe, the Fall of the Celestials (more of a Jump actually) and the Sundering of the Fae were actually rooted in practical and philosophical differences about how to pursue what is called “the War Without End” in the oldest of texts.
  • Drakes! So, Dragons in my game are evidently what other games need a Tarrasque for. Forget that, I’m a former 1E-er, I always thought Dragons were wimpy in the game (though I recognize that changed sometime around 2E, pretty much after I stopped playing). So my dragons are homebrewed awfulness that are worthy of the name while I also have Greater (Winged) and Lesser (Wingless) Drakes that fill the role needed for large reptilian creatures that hoard treasure and that threaten civilization. The Greater Drakes are the flight-capable Fire, Storm, and Frost Drakes, as well as more vestigial-winged Swamp, Sand, Forest, and Sea Drakes – and there is a whole extra ecological niche of reptilian Drakes that are domesticated – Riding Drakes, War Drakes, Hunting Drakes, Hearth Drakes, etc.
  • No Beholders, Mind Flayers, or Gith! Yeah, you heard me, none of those wonderfully iconic D&D monsters. Mostly because I just though Beholders were too weird, Mind Flayers didn’t really appeal to me (too much a copy of Cthulhu), and the Githyanki/Githzerai just seemed a bit off to me. But I did like some of the ideas involved – but wanted something that was even more terrifying – and so was born the Ichneumon Vorre, a horrific psychic, parasitic race that roams the Astral Space that reproduces like an Ichneumon Wasp, and also creates thralls by infecting them with their blood and creating a horrific, blood-sucking beast. They look like a cross between a Predator and an Alien. Then there is also the Old Race, a cannibalistic race of psychic proto-human hunters that roam the Astral in search of the Ichneumon Vorre, who consider everything else either beneath notice or worthy of hunting – and anything worth hunting is worth eating. The Old Race is human, but long changed by their travels in the Astral.
  • No Drow! In my world, there is essentially a vague analogy to the Seelie and the UnSeelie Courts of the Fae. During the Sundering, the Sh’Achtar broke with their kin, and essentially created the Shadowlands to take the War Without End as close to the borders of the Dearth as possible. Or, after the cosmic upheaval that created the Shadowlands, the Sundered (as the term Sh’Achtar translates) took up residence there because of the differences they had with their brethren in Faerie. They are pale, not dark, and definitively the sort of Fae that you need to watch out for.
  • Beastmen! To one eye, my Beastmen seem rather akin to the Jaghut of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steve Erikson. But my Beastmen (who call themselves “the Thal of Erkrath”) are rooted in the idea that the old “cavemen” from the 1E MM (obviously based on Neanderthals) were actually far wiser and far, far more than they seemed. Possessed of a powerful racial memory and orals histories that cover more history than anyone suspects the Beastmen have renounced civilization and magic as the root of all evil and live purposefully solitary and pastoral lives, far from any civilization. Despite this, and due to various Sorcerer-King liches that keep trying to be re-awoken or reborn, each tribe elects has a shaman who is burdened with learning the skills involved in magic and the like, so that various old bindings and spells can be maintained – and potential problems recognized before they become worse problems. I’ve never answered the question of what the relationship between the Beastmen and the Old Race is, but I do know that they are related, both being protohumans of a sort.
  • Yaun-Ti! Yeah, I tweaked the crap out of these as well but in some ways the least amount when it came to official game statistics. Far to the south, live the serpent-venerating (and serpent-blooded) folk of the Great Empire of Ith. Descended from the slaves of and founded on the ruins of the great Serpathian Civilization, the Pure-blood Ithians rule the Empire, with their degenerate kin are hidden away. A culture of cults and intrigues, they are feared in much of the Known World and have a civilization to rival the Kistathians in historic and cultural richness but rival the Shadowlands in cruelty.

There is more of course, but those are the ones that come to mind as I’ve been reading the Monster Manual and making sense of it.

TTFN!

D.

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Fixing Humans II (1e)

So there is an interesting set of dilemmas when it comes to making humans more attractive as a race – but part of this has to be role-play. As much as I can create some real benefits to playing humans, I think that strongest benefit is ultimately social. That said, there can be some differentiation when looking at humankind that goes beyond merely culture, and my game world has pretty much always done this -thanks to the influence of Tolkien. So, here are the broad varieties of humankind that exist.

The Common Men – This is the vast majority of the humanity, they are common men and women, average in build and appearance. Found across the Mortal Realms, they vary in coloring and build based primarily upon location within the Mortal Realms. For example, the Northmen of Thule are tall and blond, the Kistathians are of average height and dark in complexion and hair, and tribesmen of Zul are black of skin and hair.

The High Men – The hidden scions of Ryl Shantor, the blood of the High Men that runs through all those with blessed with the Talent. Those for whom the blood runs particularly true are fair of form and strong in body. In High Men the Talent is often linked to red hair, though not exclusively, and the bloodline can run dormant with Common Men for generations before flowering again for unknown reasons.

The Beastmen – Generally considered a primitive people, the Beastmen are often considered barely human at all with their sloping foreheads, and almost brutish appearance. They have an intentionally simple society eschewing magic and power, preferring to remain a quiet people living in simple conditions as a matter of philosophical choice after a long ago history of conquest and bloodshed. Ogres are considered to be a further devolved form of the Beastmen by many sages.

The Ithians – The rulers of the great continent of Ith, the Ithians are the descendants of the slave race of the Serpent Kings. Pale of complexion, smooth of skin, and black of hair, the Ithians are a sensuous and decadent people with a dark and hidden secret. They carry the blood of the Serpent Kings within them, and while it gives they power it also carries the seeds of their corruption. An ancient and hierarchical society, their inbreeding and dark magic often brings about chaos and insanity in the end.

The Old Race – The dreaded and fallen remnants of the first men, the scions of the First City, the Old Race do not dwell in the Mortal Realms. Instead they have wander the Paths between the Realms and weather the Maelstrom, occasionally returning to plague upon their descendants. Over time, they have developed the Talent to a extreme degree, and have a complex but evil society. Angular, thin, pierced, and tattooed the Old Race barely appear human to some.

The Feyhd – When the Great Old Ones, now known as the Five Demon Emperors, attempted to corrupt Aden, most humans were cast out into what became known as the Mortal Realms. But some, those who most fierce with anger and fear in the chaos of the War Without End, ended up in the Great Waste. The Feyhd are those humans that have survived and thrived within the lethal and dangerous testing ground that is the Great Waste, creating a people and society when only the strongest and most intelligent survive.

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Session #18 – Roland’s Return…

The session started off on a odd foot because about half the group wasn’t there – KT was up in Milwaukee for a VNV Nation concert, TW hasn’t made the last couple of sessions for various reasons (drill, a nephew’s Confirmation, etc), SS forgot, CW has a new job and works on Sunday afternoons, and KR showed up for her semi-regular late session because of a Sunday morning commitment. So all we had for the entire session was MR, KB & CB, and MS – but everyone seemed to have a fair amount of fun in spite of the odd dynamic.

The first thing is that I simply ruled that the characters whose players weren’t there had all passed out in the aftermath of the Vesna, Gregor, Jezabel, and Gwion raised their voice in a hymn to evil and chaos and the subsequent Doombell ringing. The second thing that I ruled was that while I realized that I had totally reversed the descriptions of two different rooms (the “chapel” and the “temple”) on map, I was just going to run with what I had read. Then I had to decide, essentially off the cuff, as to what I wanted to do because I was two players down.

So out of the “mirror-polished wall with disquieting images moving about within the stone” popped out a random number of spirits (conicidently one for each PC) – which then proceeded to paralyze Ketzl, Gryphon (who promptly Teleported out psychically and hasn’t returned yet), and Gregor (who had discovered that he had evidently just lost his Paladin-status and his Protection from Evil 10’r ability…), they also discovered how Energy Drain works (-1 penalty to Hit,Damage, Saves, and Initiative). Sorer Isabella managed to get off her own prayer of Protection vs Evil and was untouched but watching helplessly, while Tier manged to slay two of the spirits – and get hit for a total of 3 points of Energy Drain before deciding to raise his own Protection vs Evil as well.

Then the big surprise occured as MS’s old character, Roland (the 0-Level Cavalier-Paladin) walked out of the wall. He was looking a bit worse for wear – gaunt, unwholesomely pale, dressed in new armour and with a new weapons. He merely looked at Tier, the erson who had accidently sent him off to the Realm of the Dead, and said “Stop me or step aside.” Tier stepped forward and was struck down – and Roland waled out of the room without a second glance at the party, spirits in tow. Isabella then manageed to heal Tier up from unconsciousness and the two of them started dragging unconscious and paralyzed people from the temple before something new stepped out of the wall.

At this point KR returned so Frater Nikolai and Brother Illya woke up – and since there was no more combat, I had both Gwion and Jezabel wake up as well. The party quickly decided to heal as much as they could and head back to Seraph Keep to get help with what was obviously a very evil place. Amun the Sunhawk had returned, relaying that the Keep still stood and that the people there welcomed the warning (from the vision during the last game session) so the party decided that they would start with the Keep given that this was the closest to civilization despite it being a solid three days away given the shape the party was in.

So after three days of nervous travel, hoping that they don’t run into anything major (and they ran into nothing more than normal forest critters – an almost ominious state of affairs given what they normally have happen in their trips back and forth from the Caves) they come upon a dark and silent Seraph Keep as the shadows of the day grow lang and evening draws nigh…

Yeah, I set the mood well enough that I triggered my spouse PTSD by the way.

The party discovered an abandoned keep where a great slaughter had eveidently taken place and no bodies were to be found – not even of pets or animals. The only living creatures were scavangers.The only two bodies were those of two horses that barely propped open the portcullis, but the gate was wide open and the fires were gutted in their pits. Food and wares were laid out as if a great terror had descended upon the people there almost instantly, and while there was some suggestion that some individuals had fled with their valuables – there was no evidence or looting nor was the church defiled.

But there was evidence that some creatures had been bled out – the ropes and hooks were there in spots and there was much blood.

But no bodies…

And that is where we called it!

D.

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Session #17 – Bad Dreams and Demons

So we picked up the game and pretty much ignored the entire last game session. I cleaned up and cleared up the understanding of banking and taxes in email, and we started up the game on a good note.

The group is sitting at the small valley that houses Caves of Chaos, preparing to explore and re-enter the Caves and do what they can to make sure that they are actually cleared out. As the Society of Light members go about their morning prayers they are all struck by the same vision, an angel weeping blood over a broken sword and battered shield marked with the sigil of the Order Luminous (the obscure sect that mans Seraph Keep – the “Keep on the Borderlands”). As they all come out of the trance-vision, they quickly compare notes (though the fact that the elf Tier is involved in the discussion has Frater Nikolai raising an eyebrow) and after some further discussion with the whole group Sorer Isabella works with her sunhawk, Amon, to ask the Lords of Light for more clarification.

The party quickly decides based on the answers that while there is something kinky going on at the Seraph Keep, there is no chance for them to do anything from a couple of days away (and decide not to ask Gryphon to Teleport there). They send Amun with a message describing the vision and the results of the Contact Other Plane and proceed to investigate the caves. They unfortunately reveal that in the last couple of months that the places has been tossed pretty throughly – and probably not be returning bandits. So, after some more discussion that decide to not bother with the other caves, avoid the magical cave of confusion like the plague, and head right for the larger cave entrance that seems to have had the greatest amount of traffic in and out of it.

This cave is much larger and more finished than the other caves, and also considerably more eerie – there are echoing steps and strange sounds echoing from deeper within the caves. girding themselves they gird their loins and press further into the caves – with the rogues eventually scouting forward and finding a strange temple area with a huge, lurking figure that has evidently been waiting there for them. After a short but terrifying fight (the creatures attacks acted like a poison or disease that would petrify those who succumbed – almost creating the loss of Brother Illya, the Warrior-Monk). But after a short heroic fight, Vesna the mage managed to obliterate it with her very first Lightning Bolt.  The party then almost manged to kill themselves trying to dispose of its heart – the Bless spell caused it to explode in a similar manner as a Fireball.

The session might have ended there, but instead the group decided to investigate the evil chapel temple a bit further – and entranced by the barely understood forms dancing within the stone of the back wall, enough characters raised their voices in a hymn to evil that the great bell that stood near the entrance clanged deeply…

And that’s where I called it.

D.

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Warrior-Monks and Martial Arts (Part One)

I always loved the AD&D Monk class, and would certainly agree with arguments that it is somewhat misplaced in the nominally “European” setting of standard AD&D. Plus, I always thought is was incredibly poorly though-out class based on what seemed to be arbitrary and illogical rulings – no Strength or Dexterity bonuses, etc. I quickly moved to a conception of the Warrior-Monk that had more in common with the “wierding ways” of the Bene Gesserit and the ferocity of the Freman and the Sardaukar – combined with a more widely encompassing vision of the weapons available to martial artists.

So, the Player’s Handbook vision of the “monk” was tweaked early on and the “Endorian Warrior-Monks” were born – the Masters of Endorian Dragon Style. There were some quick changes that were made immediately – Warrior-Monks were given Strength and Dexterity modifiers, were allowed Percentile Strength like a Fighter and given the Constitution bonuses of a Fighter as well. I also gave them d6 for Hit Dice instead of d4. What was taken away was the abilities to Open Locks and Find/Remove Traps – and instead the ability to Track like a Ranger was given, plus an ability called “Aura Sense” (40% Base, +5% per level as the notes in my PH indicate) – this was essentially a True Sight style ability back in the day and it has been somewhat downgraded at this point. Instead of Special Ability A as listed they instead had Warmth as the ring (the Endor Monestary is way up in the peaks of some nasty cold mountains), they had the ability to do a Suggestion in addition to Special Ability D at 6th Level (ala the Voice), and finally the other major change was that 8th level, Special Ability F was replaced with Fire Resistance (again, as the ring). They were also allowed to use short swords and shortbows as weapons of proficiency and lost crossbow and javelin. My vision the Endorian Warrior-Monks were of a reclusive and self-reliant group of religious warrior mystics – not …whatever it was that they were modeled on in the PH.

I think I also let them strike creatures that were only hit with magical weapons like they were a monster with Hit Dice equal to their level. All of this actually made a monk class that was fun to play. I know that I experimented with the Monk from Dragon Magazine #53, possibly as some other order of monks someplace, but I don’t remember anyone ever actually playing with them. The only other martial artists for years were the Lictors (aka the Ninja from the Best of Dragon Vol. 2), but that all changed when Oriental Adventures came out…

Ok, there were also the Feyhd, my homage to the Fremen. They were all “monks” as well, but I don’t think anyone ever played one. Plus there was the mysterious and terrifying “Old Race” that haunted the Outer Planes.

Suddenly there was a way for anyone to learn martial arts, and it was merely monks who were vastly better at them. Plus, the “base” martial arts weren’t so horribly underpowered as to make it worthless to use. Plus martial artists of all stripes had all sorts of very cool things that they could learn how to do if they wanted to invest the proficiencies into them. Quickly I had Tyrsfarian Knife-Fighters (with the special Tyrsfarian Khuri), the sworn brotherhood of the Black Watch with their bastard swords, the Battledancers of Ulstem and Ith, and a host of places where people could learn all sorts of martial art styles.

But other problems raised their head.

For one, studying martial arts was far too much of an investment of proficiencies. It was kind of ridiculous actually, the sheer amount of “time and energy” a monk, let alone a non-monk, had to put into learning the “cool stuff”. Second, it was basically impossible to model any sort of martial art weapon style in this system. Now, some articles in Dragon Magazine helped round these things out (and birthed the Tyrsfarian Knife-Fighters for that matter), but it was still a pretty broken system in some respects.

Some folks would also point at the martial arts rules as being the ancestor of Feats – and I wouldn’t disagree. In my home-brew rules engine I essentially adapted these rules into “fighting styles” for all sorts of weapons. It was learning and mastering them that made you an effective fighter. It was also a far too complicated system in many respects – and there is a large part of me that is happy to never look at that home-brew ever again. But from there is where the various martial arts of the Dakini, the Tantric-Assassins, were first spawned, along with the deadly arts of the Bloodmoon Adepts (the title ganked from an old Citybook from Flying Buffalo).

Next up: How do we make it work?

TTFN!

D.

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High Men, Psionics, and Psionicists (1e)

So, James has posted today about the Psionicist over at Grognardia. I’ll add on to say that it is one of the ways that I’ve handled psionics in my game world – and certainly the major way that players have had psionic characters in my game for a while now. Coincidently I’ve been thinking about psionics the last couple of days and came up with a new tweak that I like and that makes more sense to me from both a character development and a game balance perspective.

Personally, I never had a problem with psionics in AD&D, first I was reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series at a young age because my mother loved them and they were sitting in the huge pile of speculative fiction that inhabited our house (along with the rest of the books the bibliophiles that my parents were had collected). The simple fact is that psionics hardly ever came up, what was noticeable was that they were often something that either immediately doomed a character because psionic encounters really, really suck or foretold a long and successful career because certain abilities just made the characters quite powerful. This was a s true of the psionicist as it was of the psychic but actually emphasized the “psionic encounters suck” end of things because the progression was slowed down so much.

You’ll notice that Brother Illya is a “High Man” (aka Deryni aka Dúnadan aka Comyn aka whatever) and is a multi-classed Psionicist/Warrior-Monk (currently 3rd/3rd) while a couple of other characters are listed as “Minor Psychics” and “Psychics”. The “Minor Psychic” is a new category that I essentially invented when I came back to AD&D after running my own rules system to cover those races that I wanted to always have some innate psychic Talent to model certain abilities but without giving them the full range of psionic abilities automatically. High Men only count as roughly about 5-10% of the population and are considered to be the true scions of nobility – paradoxically because having the traces of blood of angels, elves, dragons, whatever running through their veins that grants them the mixed blessing and curse of psychic ability violates the taboo against inter-racial sexuality that the “civilized” races have in my game world.

Psionicists work pretty much as they do in the article, save that they use my attribute of “Talent” instead of the IWC (Intelligent-Wisdom-Charisma Average) to determine Psionic Ability – everything else is the same. High Men are able to multi-class as Psionicists with any other single class, and suffer the same 10% XP penalty per class as non-humans. Also, Psionicists automatically have the Minor Devotions of Rapport and Lights in addition to the other Disciplines gained as a result of advancement. At one point in the very distant past I allowed Psionicists to choose thier Devotions, Sciences, and Arts – but at this point I insist that they roll them like everyone else.

Psychics are pretty much the way psychics are written up into the Players Handbook, with the addition of automatically having the Minor Devotions of Rapport and Lights. I interpret the advancement for multi-class characters to occur as one ability (Minor Devotion or Major Science, all Minor Devotions first) to be added each odd level, the same as for single-class characters, but the multiple classes are added together to determine “level” rather than using the highest level class or some other arcane formula to determine how many abilities had been learned. This would also represent the abilities of “untrained” High Men if someone wanted to play one without multi-classing as a Psionicist. The chance for any non-human to be Psychic is the same as the basic roll from the Players Handbook – with the stipulation that Talent must be 16 or higher. This is limited to those races who even have the potential – Dwarves, Gnomes, Half-Elves, Sh’dai – Elves and Ithians are either Minor Psychics or Psionicists, never half-way. As an odd note, two “human” races are automatically considered Psychic if they do not specialize as Psionicists, the “Old Race” and the “Feyhd”.

One other note, only characters who choose to be multi-class as Healer/Psionicists can start with Cell Adjustment at 1st level, and other Psionicists or Psychics may only take it if they roll high enough to “Select One” on the table – and may only do it with my permission.

(As I write this, I think I’m just also instituting a rule that Psychic characters suffer a 10% XP penalty “as if” they had another character class as a multi-class. That’s another nice bit of balance for the benefits that you get for the abilities. If you are Psionicist, you already get it, and if you are a Minor Psychic the “benefit” is really not much compared to the potential downside for most adventurers.)

Minor Psychics have only the abilities of Rapport and Lights – as given in the Psionicist article. They can use all forms of psychic item, device, or consumable just like a Psychic or Psionicist. They only have one Defense Mode (G- Though Shield) and they only gain one Attack Mode (A – Psionic Blast) at 2nd level. None of this is rolled, either your race is considered “Minorly Psychic” or it isn’t. This is mainly Elves, Half-Elves, Sh’dai, and Ithians. Perhaps strangely, bit Gnomes and Dwarves are not Minor Psychics, their gifts manifest as thier other abilities to detect stonework, etc.

Psychics and Minor Psychics roll for Psionic Ability using the following formula: 1d100, plus one for point of Talent, plus one for each point of Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and Power over twelve. If two of the five attributes are above 15 then the “bonus” points are doubled, if three then they are tripled, if four, quadrupled; and if all five then the bonus points to the d100 roll are quintupled.

Here is the tweak for Psychics and Minor Psychics that I just realized this past weekend made much more sense. Instead of rolling to determine what the Attack and Defense Modes are known, just ruling that Defense Modes are gained at the rate of one for every odd level (and Defense Mode G being the first automatically gained at 1st level) and attack modes are gained at the rate of one for every even level. Psioncists advance as the table in the article.

It’s worth noting that I also consider Illusionists to use “Mentalism” rather than Arcane Magic or Divine Power, along with Oracles (Dragon #53) and Timelords (Dragon #65). This means that “Magic Resistance” doesn’t work against these “spells” (though for certain extra-planar creatures I have ruled that they have equivalent “Mentalism Resistance”). In some ways this might makes things more powerful for Illusionists, but at other times it means that a simple Thought Shield prevents them from doing much of anything worthwhile…

Ouch!

TTFN!

D.

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