Thursday, March 31, 2011

Loot from St. Vinnie's

I picked up a couple of cheap Mary Stewart books from the second-hand store, as well as some old Dark Horse Conans for a buck each. The comics are ok but they really make me appreciate my Savage Sword compilation even more.

I’d made a quick stop there on a hunch I’d find something Doug Easterly had posted about over at his blog: a Magic Eightball, from which I could harvest the twenty sided “die” inside with various fortunes on its faces. My wife was along and skeptical, but I never lost faith that they’d have one. They did, for another buck.

My idiot mistake was not thinking that I could simply huck it at the concrete in my driveway to extricate the thing. Oh no. The mistake was not first putting it into a plastic bag before doing so. Because you see, on the second attempt it did indeed dislodge the transparent plastic lens, allowing the die to exit. It also let loose the watery, blue-dyed oil which (though some got on my shoes) mostly ended up all over the carport and my wife’s car. Fortunately it wasn’t permanent, although I had bank robber hands for the rest of the day.

Here’s a picture of the little bastard:I think I got the cheap, later version.

Rubbing alcohol cleaned it up pretty well - I’ll repaint it to make the text easier to read. I plan on it using it when a superstitious porter occasionally takes out his “sticks of telling” to see what they say.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Disclaimer: On Blogs and the Gift Economy

It isn’t something I do often, but occasionally I send things to bloggers I follow - tangible tokens of appreciation for their writing and the inspiration or plain entertainment it's brought me. I don’t expect anything back, nor even acknowledgement of receipt. The items I send may be valuable or else something I made myself at little or no cost, and in no way should be interpreted to necessarily reflect the degree of my appreciation. Frankly, it can be a bit arbitrary or whimsical on my part, and probably depends to some extent on how much money is in the beverage budget that week. It’s just a way of expressing thanks for someone’s efforts and perhaps a more lasting form of encouragement. I occasionally also do something like this in my regular life - the only difference being that the recipients are not as likely to be total strangers.

I mention this here for two reasons - one, so that if you do receive something from me unexpectedly, you should know that you’re under no obligation to reciprocate in any way. Regardless of what Marcel Mauss has to say on the matter, there is no unspoken contract of any kind that you’ve been involuntarily entered into. The other more obvious reason is that since I have to ask you for an address and you will naturally wonder why, hopefully this post will serve as a standard disclaimer I can point to without having to go into a lengthy explanation. More than this, if you prefer not to respond or to not give out personal information, that’s fine - and in some ways prudent and perfectly understandable. No offense will be taken. That is all.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Masks of Gageac

The Masks of Gageac

The magical effects of the Masks of Gageac are quite simple: any two people who wear the masks switch minds with one another for as long as they're worn. Knowledge and skills are retained, although physical attributes (other than hit points) are those of the original host body.

The story of the Masks creation is generally told as follows…

A play was to be performed for the enjoyment of a king on his fiftieth birthday, celebrating his life’s achievements. It was filled with many lengthy monologues, and a few days before the performance was to take place, the lead actor and his understudy had a fight, resulting in the understudy’s death. Though healing priests were brought, the lead actor had suffered permanent injury to his throat. Knowing he could no longer speak his lines, his director scrambled to find a solution to their predicament; they knew that their king was very eager to see the play, and was most fickle and dangerous.

The two were able to enlist the aid of a good magician named Gageac, who had travelled far to see the performance and pay his respect to the king on his birthday. Gageac created the masks, and a willing substitute for the lead was found. When the time came for the play to be performed, the lead and his substitute put on the masks, with the body of the lead now inhabited by the volunteer and waiting just backstage.

The bereaved lover of the understudy struck just as the curtain fell - in revenge, she slit the throat of the one she thought had killed her fiancé. Knowing the punishment she would receive, she quickly took her own life, never realizing that her true target was alive and well but forever trapped in another man’s body.

Ironically, the story of the masks is now itself a popular play and performed in Sarlat, not far from the birthplace of Gageac (which was renamed for him). It’s said that the real Masks of Gageac are also in the Dordogne valley, perhaps hidden in the dungeon below Lord Beynac’s castle, or across the river and possessed by its rival nobles in Castelnaud.

Some danger comes with donning the masks: there is a 10% cumulative chance that the mind transfer is irreversible even after they're taken off. This chance doubles if either participant is unwilling and a mask forced on them, and causes an additional 10% chance of insanity in both.

Mask art above is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and a derivative of a previous work found here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jefferson State Ale

Had one last week. Damn fine stuff. Look for it!

In other non-dungeony news (digressions I said), I came across this old email the other day whilst archiving some old items....

Man, we used to throw some wild Pink Floyd themed parties! Sadly, this particular special effect never manifested (obviously for budgetary reasons). I can no longer watch the Wizard of Oz without turning the volume down...

Strange Lights Phenomenon - Scientific Study in Norway

I found this video very interesting - unlike most UFO videos on the internet (which are clearly hoaxes, chinese lanterns etc.), these photographs and clips were collected by scientists at a Norwegian university. Never having heard of the Hessdalen study before, my first thought was that it might also be an elaborate hoax, but I was able to track down the current university website of the project (the URL listed on the side of the observation trailer in the video is outdated).

There’s a paper out which investigated the possibility that the lights correspond to solar flare activity, but no relationship was found. This brought to mind the idea of “earthlights”… Dr. Michael Persinger coined the term “anomalous luminous phenomena” and came up with the theory that tectonic stress causes electromagnetic energy to manifest visibly somehow for short durations. Other theories proposed include the lights being caused by atmospheric electricity, anti-matter, black holes, or their being electrically charged balls of (naturally occurring) gas.

Since these phenomena have occurred elsewhere and for some time, I can see how they might have given rise to the notion of fairies, sprites, and will-o-wisps.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

S&W Sessions Journal: Surgical Strike

Last night’s highlight was definitely the rot grubs - the idea of immersing the infected limb in fire didn’t occur to the party. Instead, a Day of the Dead moment happened, with the cleric casting cure light wounds as a porter held the infected henchmen down and a PC hacked the limb off. It didn't come off on the first blow, but with a natural 20, the limb sailed across the floor and the man was saved, although at the loss of his left arm.

There was some good fun in dice rolling and role playing this out, but in the end, the party wound up in a tougher situation… Earlier they’d only halfheartedly looked for additional help. They'd decided against hiring another porter who was practically begging for employment as their blind ex-magic user's aid, before departing again for the ruinous castle. Now they’ve got a blind man and a one-armed henchman.

They hightailed it back to the Turnapeak Inn. I guess it could’ve been worse.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seastalker: Maps for a Superhero or Secret Agent Game

Infocom's 1984 game "Seastalker" has some nice maps and graphics included that could be easily adapted to a superhero or secret agent rpg such as Top Secret. I found these tonight after taking down a box filled with old Infocom manuals and floppies. I don't have a Mac Classic to run these on, but they're all available for download in the z-machine format for use with an interpreter (on OS X, I like Spatterlight). This particular Infocom title seems a great introduction to interactive fiction for a kid - although I wonder how well today's kids would respond to this kind of computer game, considering the graphics and sound capabilities they're more familiar with... I'll have to see what my nine year old nephew thinks sometime.
More here and here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Mysteries of a Religious Order

I've been buying old JG stuff on eBay again lately, and recently read Steve Marsh’s article in The Dungeoneer #15 (1980) entitled “Initiates of the White God”. He describes an initiation process where each level comes with its own expected sacrifices and rewards, as well the revealing of an esoteric mystery related to the order. Presumably these would vary widely from one order to another (although perhaps all expressing the same fundamental truths).

For example: “Level Four is the step to the first mystery. This mystery is that there is no mystery but that all mysteries are but common knowledge in the proper context. The Nach Lan is performed (similar to the Mithrian baptism of blood only with water) and one gains the responsibility to aid those in distress…” and “One becomes +1 vs. all evil creatures (both to offense and defense).”

I’m not so keen on introducing broad mechanical bonuses like this. I can see the temptation, especially if there are strict requirements that might take away some of the player’s freedom to choose their character’s actions. Instead, I’d prefer to introduce more flavorful rewards and restrictions with some restraint. For example, rather than a permanent +1 to attacks and AC, perhaps the order rewards a magic weapon. The PC might have one already, maybe even a better one, but still be expected to use it. Such a gift might also fail them, should they act in a manner unbefitting their level of initiation. It could also be lost or broken, and its recovery or mending become an adventure seed itself. An example of a minor reward might simply be an open invitation to the orgy pit of the high priestess at the main temple. Oh frabjous day! In any event, the symbolism of such a gift or reward should be of importance and relevant to the particular order.

I thought it would be a good idea to ready something similar for our own game. Below is a rough draft of Agnal’s potential initiation progression. He’s a cleric in our Dordogne campaign who somehow fell into worshipping the unlikely “Corrno, God of Thieves” (as found in JG’s “The Unknown Gods”). It seems odd having to devise an initiation progression like this for an order of a deity so explicitly connected to a class of character in the game, but that was what the player wanted.

Marsh’s progression starts at first level and completes at nine. Ours starts at second (since our clerics usually don’t have a deity or spells until then) and finishes at ten. Bear in mind that level progression in our Swords & Wizardry game is very slow.

Initiates of Corrno, God of Thieves

Level 2: Naivette
Level 3: True Membership
Level 4-6: Mysteries 1-3
Level 7: Questing
Level 8-10: Mysteries 4-6

Level Two: The naivette is expected to respect thieves above others. Their company should be sought out, and they should be the first to be healed should the occasion arise. Opportunities to steal should always be kept watch for - and brought to the attention of trusted confidant thieves. Theft should always be (prudently) encouraged, and Corrno brought to the attention of thieves as the proper choice of worship. In return, Corrno may enter the initiate’s dreams and provide clues to the existence of nearby wealth that’s ripe for plunder.

Level Three: At this level of initiation, the initiate will be visited by higher ranked members who will demand to know how he has thus far supported Corrno and his worshippers. They’ll present to him a gold offering plate (which is actually only gold plated) as a symbol of his recognition as a true member. At this level he’ll be magically bestowed the knowledge and use of Thieves Cant. He’s now expected to visit thieves guilds during his travels when the opportunity arises, in order to procure converts and donations and to provide various services.

Level Four: The First Mystery of the Order is revealed: Someone is always stealing from you, and you are always stealing from someone else. This is unavoidable truth - understanding it deeply is the first step in acquiring true wisdom. At this level, the initiate is expected to attempt to help imprisoned thieves - by acting as counselor, healing them of injuries sustained during capture, or even (occasionally) in forcibly liberating them. In recognition of attaining this level, the order symbolically gifts the initiate a Bag of Holding.

Level Five: The Second Mystery of the Order is revealed: Property is to be respected - It is best to take someone else’s property, that it might be better respected. The ability to pick locks and pockets as a first level thief is attained (though this ability will not improve). Along with their other regular duties, the cleric is now expected to occasionally travel and contact initiates of the third level for interrogation (and to steal from them).

Level Six: The Third Mystery of the Order is revealed: Everyone has property in his own person - his life. This too, shall be stolen. At this level a cleric of Corrno gains the back stabbing ability of low level thieves (it should be mentioned that clerics of Corrno are already allowed the use of edged weaponry). However, his charisma is lowered by one point as his continual connivance and scheming becomes written into his facial features and more difficult to hide.

Level Seven: Questing. At this stage of initiation, the Council of the Fifth Mystery will require the initiate to undertake a quest of its choosing. All worshippers of Corrno must give aid to a questing initiate of the order if so asked, else they risk the order’s confiscation of all their possessions and possible execution.

Level Eight: The Fourth Mystery of the Order is revealed: Property is Theft: There is no such thing as theft because there is no such thing as property. At this level the initiate is no longer allowed to possess coinage, non-magical jewelry, or gems. When obtained, these must all be given over to the Council of the Fifth Mystery and the Order as soon as practically possible. However, if large sums are money are required, the Council may be petitioned.

Level Nine: The Fifth Mystery of the Order is revealed: Truth is the property of no one.  All possessions other than ragged clothes, magic items, land, or structures are to be given away (but made to appear as though they’ve been stolen). An initiate of this level is a member of a council which dictates what quests are to be assigned and to whom, among other business.

Level Ten: The sixth mystery of Corrno is inexpressible in written language. These initiates no longer serve as council members. They’re said to take orders from Corrno himself.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oregon FLGS Gets a Local Newspaper Write Up

It was great to see one of my (relatively) local game stores written up in the regular press recently - Ancient Wonders, whom I’ve praised here before, was featured in Thursday’s Tigurd/Tualatin/Sherwood’s The Times newspaper. Last sentence of the article: “Yes, you can find this stuff cheaper online,” Rains said. “What we offer is a place to play. We provide an atmosphere that you can’t get over the Internet.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Hey, There's Something Different About These Orcs..." (d20)

d20 Table of Odd Orcs

1. Obviously blind (but pretending not to be).
2. Speak with a Scottish accent.
3. Drink tea. Use silverware.
4. Totally high on dungeon fungus.
5. Moss suckers - afraid of water.
6. Stay well away from anyone with a ten foot pole.
7. Wearing dapper hats.
8. Knife cult: Only use knives as weapons. Tolerate those who carry knives. Admire those with fancy or magical knives. Scorn those who don’t like knives or use weapons other than knives. Knives. Knives. Knives! They really like knives.
9. Wearing expensive, fashionable dresses.
10. Vegan, dirt-worshipping pacifists.
11. Coin eating Xorn worshippers.
12. All carry copies of a little red book entitled “Underground Equality” written in gnomish.
13. Tracheotomies apparently the latest fad in orken body art.
14. Sing taunts in a dramatic opera-like fashion when attacking (a la Ring of the Nibulung)
15. Best looking orcs you’ve ever seen. Still ugly though - just sayin’! Smell nice too.
16. Zebra striped. Highly contagious.
17. "You guys play boneball?" Totally obsessed with some strange sport.
19. Mumblers.
20. All have the same tattoo of a hot elf chick.

Rolling more than once is encouraged.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Got lucky with a buck...

I read with interest Sean’s announcement that he’s planning on writing a secret agent rpg in the spirit of TSR’s Top Secret. It’s not something I’d ever played a lot of as a kid, but I did own it and we had some good times with it. Coincidentally I’d managed to pick up a copy on eBay a few days earlier… for $1. It arrived today, complete, except for the dice. It’s the April 1980 printing, and all parts including the box (corners too) are in perfect condition. Not too shabby! Maybe I can rope someone into a session of this some time.

In flipping through the books, the thing that quickly stood out for me is how generally weak the artwork is, especially compared to the D&D books. I mean, check out even the Erol Otus piece in the included module (below). Yawn! I wonder if they might have created a little more excitement in us about playing it back in the day if they’d pushed (paid?) these guys more.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I took this photo (slightly gimped) not far from Middlesbrough years back and thought I'd set it free... hereby released as Public Domain.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Miniatures for an Island Hopping Campaign

On a whim, I’ve been searching around for miniatures that would work well in an island hopping campaign with a Polynesian/Hawaiian feel. Here’s what I’ve found so far...

Bloodaxe Miniatures has a selection of 15mm “Ancient Hawaiian” figures. I suppose these might work opposite 25mm minis as pygmies. Detail is hard to find in 15mm. My favorite of this bunch is the priest with a carving held over his head.

I found a couple of brief reviews. They’re much better looking when painted (more examples here and here).

Eureka Miniatures
has a similar line of Hawaiians, also cast in 15mm. Here’s their version of a priest holding a mask over his head.

Yet another is Mick Yarrow's collection. I couldn't find any decently sized pictures of them though.

Pulp Figures has a number of 28mm Melanesian Island Warriors available.

My favorite find was Crunch Waffles' selection which ranged in size from 19mm to 80mm. I really like their Ogre Mage (below) as well as their "gobbo"...
I wondered how easy it would be to find plastic miniatures that might be sold as souvenirs - apparently some of the older ones are very collectible. I didn't run across anything that jumped out as suitable though (at least not for what I had in mind). I did find some 3" tiki carvings that would work well as statues of temple gods or maybe as monsters themselves.

I'd be curious to hear if anyone knows of similar minis, especially in 25mm... there are definitely a lot of Amazons that could be reworked, as well as probably Native American or even Innuit figures that might do.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan Earthquake: Toll Free Number Information (Updated)

For information on the whereabouts and welfare of your family and friends in Japan, you can consult the State Department website, call the toll free number 888-407-4747 or else call 202-501-4444.

Update: RPGNow is offering Ronin: Oriental Adventures for $5. All proceeds will go to the Red Cross for Japan earthquake relief efforts.

Dropping Monsters Into Other People's Art

There's this guy who goes to yard sales and Goodwill, buys other people's landscape art, and then paints in his own monsters. I love that someone is doing this - it reminds me a bit of what we do here in our blogs and games.Found on reddit - further discussion here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Undead Parrots of Omo Toao

Among the tribal peoples of Omo Toao in the Sea of Os’r, the rare zombie can be found carrying out chores as a way to repay a debt that could never be repaid in life. The arrangement has a number of strict rules involved, including the authorization of the village chief and several witnesses being present at the time the contract is agreed upon. In addition, a witch doctor who initially revives a body and binds its service to another must terminate the arrangement and zombie after an agreed upon time - usually not more than a year.

More commonly found there are the undead parrot heads, or “makemanu”. These are highly prized as novelty items but also have some practical use. Through a process carefully guarded from outsiders, an Omo Toao witch doctor takes a parrot trained to repeat sentences, kills it, and revives only its head - somehow managing to preserve the bird’s ability to speak and repeat short phrases. Each makemanu’s ability varies, but generally only the best birds are used for this purpose. Repeating a phrase to it several times while holding it close to one’s face (a rather unpleasant experience) imprints the sounds. Thereafter, the head will hoarsely squawk the phrase every few minutes. For this reason the heads are usually kept stored away in small baskets tightly wrapped in cloth, especially before being transported.

Makemanu are most often used during yearly celebrations where they’re pitched on poles. Typically in these settings, they’re used to playfully shout insults at passersby or sometimes in tandem with another; one telling a joke and another its punch line, over and over. During the celebration of the vernal equinox, they’re used as a way to convey amorous sentiment. A short love letter or verse is spoken to the makemanu before being hidden somewhere for the target of affection to find at a later time.

They are fragile items, and tend to lose their feathers and fall apart after a couple of years. It is traditional to dispose of a makemanu by fire as destruction by any other method is considered very bad luck. The blue feathered makemanu are most rare and possession by anyone other than King Gramatira or the royal family is a crime punishable by death. He carries a scepter with a makemanu mounted at its apex, and any time the king clears his throat, it announces “That paragon of potentates is going to speak!” Anyone who interrupts this announcement is also punishable by death.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Geordie Goes Gaming Goes MIA

Anyone know what happened to Geordie Racer's "Geordie Goes Gaming" blog? It was up just a couple of days ago but has since been removed (though it's still available via Google's cache). I wonder if his user name caused BBC copyright or trademark complaints, as crazy as that sounds.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Riddle of the Three Runes

A subject that comes up irregularly at the weekly magic users’ tea party in Domme is the Riddle of the Three Runes. Whoever originally devised the runes is lost to antiquity, but for several years now the social gatherings at the home of Geronymous have been plagued by this curse. In essence, three plain looking runes, when simply placed next to one another in a certain order, arouse in all magic users who behold them (or hear them pronounced) a nearly irresistible need to argue for the lesser or greater importance of one of the symbols and how it relates to their shared occupation. Like a bad case of dungeon funk, the riddle seems to never quite go away, and rears its ugly head most often when a gathering’s banter has begun to wane or become an awkward silence. Once the subject’s been broached, the effect dominates the rest of the social and continues preventing any kind of productive communication between affected magic users for several (d6) days.

The true nature of these runes are known to only a few (those who have made their saving throw at -8). Of course, this cannot be communicated to anyone else (not even to those who have also successfully made their saving throw). What seems a riddle is really a curse: whether read or heard, the effect is also viral, and if one has become infected, he becomes a carrier. From then on, whenever two or more magic users are gathered, there is a 2% cumulative chance per person that the Riddle of the Three Runes will be mentioned yet again.

Sadly, even those who successfully make their saving throw against it are only immune for about a year.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Brief Interview with a Game Store Owner (Video)

Brett White is the owner of Heroes Haven in Roseburg, OR. He describes himself as primarily "a comics guy" who happens to sell games as well. On a recent visit, he kindly agreed to be recorded, sharing some of his thoughts on the current game market and its history.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Engravings by Matthäus Merian

I found this great map of Algiers tonight which led me to the collection of engravings by Matthäus Merian in the Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

FLGS Video Walk Through: Heroes Haven in Roseburg, OR

I was in Roseburg on business a couple of days ago and thought I'd check out what it had in the way of game stores. I couldn't find the first one I looked for (bad Google directions or out of business now I think), but I did find Heroes Haven. It's probably 3/4 comics, but there's an excellent selection of games and miniatures too. The owner was very friendly and willing to be on video sharing some of his thoughts as a store owner. I still have to go over what I shot and see if there's anything I can salvage, it's nearly impossible to shoot steady with something as small as an iPod, even with image stabilization added afterwards.

S&W Sessions Journal: I Was Blind, Now I Can't See

Considering their magic user was now blind, everyone quickly agreed to return to town. Though it was dark, they managed to arrive at the Turnapeak Inn without incident, where their room and board had already been arranged for by their employer. They didn’t see Stebbins in the main hall, but they were very happy to see their old traveling companion and adventurer, Gulch. After gratuitous back slapping and a couple of introductions, they all sat down and began drinking in earnest - a bit cold heartedly considering the condition of their magic user. Skithath (their spastic porter) joined them after helping Kitoth to bed, and once everyone had put away a few pints, the subject turned to their leadership.

After some discussion, two votes were made. The first was open - everyone who wanted to keep Kitoth on as part of the group raised their glass and drank. Only one of the henchmen thought he should be let go. It was then agreed that he would no longer get a share. He'd be reduced to the status of a hireling in terms of pay, since all he would be able to do at best would be to pack loot out.

The second vote was about whether someone else should lead the group, considering how things had turned out recently. Gulch put up Agnal’s name as an alternative, and a secret vote was made using the dungeoneer method of dropping different types of coins into a sack. These were turned out by Gulch and surprisingly the results were unanimous - Wagstaff must have voted against himself. This improved the spirits of the crew considerably, although whether Wagstaff simply saw the writing on the wall or genuinely thinks Agnal will be a better leader is uncertain. Agnal does seem a strange choice, and it may be that Gulch is conniving to take the lead himself in the near future. It’s true that Agnal has saved the lives of more than one of them with his healing ability, but he’s generally quiet and introverted.

That night, the dice said that Agnal was to receive an important message from his god in a dream. In the morning, he awoke with an image still fresh in his mind: Kitoth praying to Agnal’s god and begging for guidance. He went to see him in his quarters and found him crying (or as close to it as he could given the state of his face and eyes). The cleric consoled him in slithering low tones, even sitting beside him and holding the magic user close to his chest. There was some pretty funny role playing going on here, as the blind magic user saw the light and accepted Corrno as his own god. “I…I want to believe…” etc.

After that, Agnal led him downstairs to the main hall where their employer Stebbins was waiting. They were all handed decent sacks of gold for their information. Having defeated a giant shrew, Wagstaff had thought to have the thing’s snout cut off and kept as proof. Stebbins seemed particularly excited by this when they presented it to him, and gave them an extra bag of gold for it. “My master will be very pleased!” Their thoughts then turned to better equipment, perhaps at an armory in Castelnaud. At this, our short session ended.

I’m trying to figure out how much experience to give Agnal for this conversion. The magic user had only a few hundred points himself and has opted to become a cleric, following in the footsteps of Agnal. I threw out all his experience and started him over, and he won’t be getting any magic until 2nd level, which should take ages given his blindness. It seems unlikely that he’ll survive many more sessions, but I’ve a couple ideas about how to make his blindness still more interesting.