Saturday, April 18, 2015

O is For Odyssey

Another entry into the 'classics' that I've been hitting on, The Odyssey is the homeward journey of Odysseus from the War at Troy.

If you were looking at it from the modern perspective, it would be the end of a trilogy that started with The Iliad, moving into the Aeneid, and finishing in the Odyssey.

The Odyssey is filled with a great number of bits that have been incorporated into most fantasy role playing games.

1. The Greek Gods: While not present in every fantasy RPG, the influence of them is often heavy. Not only in fantasy though, but often in Super Hero comics. For example, Marvel Comics and DC Comics have both made extensive use of the Greek Pantheon including the use of Hercules and Ares, and even going so far as to make Wonder Woman an actual daughter of Zeus in the new 52.

2. Monsters: Man seducing sirens who sing men to their death. Great and towering cyclops who eat men whole while guarding their flock of sheep. The terror of sailing between Scylla and Charybdis.

3. Strength of Arms: When Odysseus makes his return home, he finds his wife under siege from numerous suitors. Her solution? Only the one who can string and fire the boy of Odysseus may claim her.

4. Dangerous Journey: One of the worst aspects of most role playing games is the tedium of ship travel. Here that wasn't quite a problem as Homer puts his characters through the paces several times, including having them come within sight of their home only to have the foolish men above the ship unless the bag of winds and blow them back off course.

I've mentioned previously that unless I've personally read a different version, I go with the Penguin Classics. In this case, the Penguin Classic I recommend isn't the standard one, because there are several, but the one translated by Robert Fagles. His work didn't do much for me on the Iliad, but man, his version of the Odyssey was fantastic. It flowed like a calm river carrying me with it and allowing me to enjoy the ride.

N is for Necromancer

Necromancy has come a long way from it's humble origins.

In a historical context, it's about communicating with the dead. I won't say that's it, but yeah, pretty much, that's it.

In those terms, the old Martha Wells novel, Death of The Necromancer, plays with its original function as well as what it's later become.

While it's long out of print, the Kindle version is only $2.99 so it makes an interesting read and Martha is a hell of a writer.

In role playing terms, especially in the grand father of RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons and it's sibling, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Necromancy is a school of magic. It's also, depending on the edition, a sphere of priestly studies. The effects tend to go well beyond merely speaking with the dead.

But not only necromancy as a school, but as a character archetype. So fascinating is the subject, that even 'back in the day', TSR was able to get a DMR (Dungeon Master Reference) out of it with The Complete Book of Necromancers. This was a fun little book with its own island setting making it useful for almost any standard setting that TSR was publishing back in the day.

The book isn't available in print anymore but you can buy it at nowadays for $9.99. If you want Necromancers that are more than game stats, it's a solid book. Don't misunderstand me, it includes a lot of gaming information for AD&D 2nd edition but unless you're playing that edition, the game mechanics might be a little dated.

When thinking about Necromancers, there are a lot of subjects to think about.

What happens to dead people? This isn't a question of people rising as zombies after death but rather, a question on what happens to a person's corpse. In a fantasy setting that is known to have magic that can raise the dead, what purpose would not burning the bodies or at the very least, binding the bodies have? "Well, I know that necromancers are real and that the undead can be created through their magic, but hell, let's not actually do a single thing to prevent that."

Is Necromancy Inherently Evil? Necromancers are often portrayed as evil individuals from their dealings with all of the negative energy they handle. The Complete Necromancer's Handbook plays against type with some options, and Kobold Press has a book, New Paths Compendium, with a White Necromancer. Nat Russo has his own take on it in his series starting with the Necromancer Awakening.

Thinking about the role of necromancer in the setting can have a huge impact on how the entire setting works. Are there famous necromancers? Some that are 'fated' to return?

One of my favorites in that region was Nagash in the Warhammer Old World. There was something appealing in a 'normal' person who creates the whole concept of Necromancy. Who creates the first  vampires. Who undergoes a physical change to such a point that his own body becomes engorged with the power and he becomes a giant.

If you've followed me on Twitter or over on, you'll note that I've wanted Nagash to return to Warhammer for a long time. When Games Workshop was doing their yearly story lines, I had hoped for a 'Summer of Nagash' where they would release new sculpts of old figures with new stats and have one of those campaigns where the players would determine the fate of the world!

Mind you Games Workshops efforts in this endeavor had failed to a certain extend in previous years thanks to the ham fisted writing of the Games Workshop staff who seemed unable to accept that Chaos was stomped into the ground so soundly when they should have been posed for victory...

But Games Workshop in an effort to invigorate the Old World, went a step further. Nagash was the first to have his 'End Times' book published and it literally was the start of the end for the Old World of Warhammer.

But other companies, like En World Publishing, have their own versions of a powerful necromancer. In this case, it was a book called Necromancer's Legacy, Gar'Udok's Necromantic Arts. A book designed under the OGL and d20 license for 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It was filled with monsters, prestige classes, spells, and magic items with it's own story of Gar'Udok. Good stuff for those looking for a name less famous than Nagash.

Necromancers have long been a staple of fantasy games as the villains. How have you used Necromancers in your own campaign? One shot use? Campaign villain? Individuals who have challenged the likes of Orcus for their throne?

Friday, April 17, 2015

M is For Master

One of the things I enjoyed about Fullmetal Alchemist was the different villains that it showcased. There always was another villain behind the current one. It allowed the heroes to progress in power, ability, and knowledge, while still providing them a challenge.

When we are first introduced to the minor character Cornello, he is a false priest stirring up revolution. His claim to fame is the ability to craft 'miracles' based on his faith.

When Ed and Al defeat him, Father Cornello is then confronted by Lust and Gluttony. Another bit higher up the chain. That encounter does not end well for the poor father.

We then encounter further 'Sins' up the ladder such as Envy and Wrath. Sometime later 'Father' and the first of the 'Sins' Pride.

By having multiple villains of various power level and various abilities, the characters have to learn and adapt. For example, when fighting the Sin known as Greed, Ed learns that Greed's Ultimate Shield is carbon based and manages to weaken it using his alchemy.

While it's good to have a chain of villains related to one another, in this case Cornello working for Lust, Lust working for 'Father' and the various other circles that happen due to 'Father's influence, such as the Crimson Alchemist working for Pride who in turn works for 'Father', it's also important to have characters and opposition that is not necessarily related directly to those foes.

Fullmetal does that with their antihero Scar. Originally from the war torn country of Ishval, he hunts down the State Alchemists who he feels are responsible for so much pain and suffering in his home country. He almost manages to kill both Ed and Al in their first encounter and only through strange circumstances do Ed and Scar wind up as allies against the Sins.

The Pathfinder Adventure Paths by Paizo follow a similar pattern. The first few books may often involve some lowly creature, like say a horned bandit king in Kingmaker, while five books down the road, the power behind the throne awaits. Because it's a huge setting, Paizo also throws a few other bits in there to insure that it's not just all minions of the big boss all the time.

And often there are opportunities to bring foes over to your side. This allows former enemies to become allies. In Kingmarker there are several such opportunities and in other Adventure Paths, similar circumstances allow players, through clever role playing or mercenary individuals who see opportunity when the player's come calling, to switch sides.

When designing your own villains, don't forget, there's always somebody smarter than yourself.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

L is For Leadership

When it comes to role playing games, there aren't necessarily a break down of the group into leaders and followers.

So what am I talking about when I say L is for Leadership?

Be the type of player you want to play with.

Do you show up late to the games and hate it when other people are later then you? Think about it and make the effort to show up on time.

Have you ever blown off your group and not called to let them know you weren't making it?

Have you ever been at the game and had the GM waiting to find out what's going on with that one guy?

Think about it and make the small effort to call and let the group know you're not going to be there. The earlier the better because if other people cancel, and some of them don't call? The game itself may be cancelled.

This type of 'leadership' can go into everything that happens at the game.

Do your games get bogged down in rules questions? Learn the system better. You're not doing it to showboat your knowledge of the game, but rather, to get the game moving forward again.

Does your group use miniatures? Can you provide your own?

Are you going to someone else's house to play? Bring the host refreshments. I've been to games that have run where no one outside of a few select people bring soda and chips and you have to look at the other guys like "Really? You'll sit here and eat the food and drink the soda and never bring any yourself?" Don't be that guy.

Here's another tip. If the place you're playing isn't owned outright by the host, bring something for the actual owners. Order them a pizza. Role players can be loud and obnoxious at times without ever meaning to. I know there has been more than one shout of "Nat 20!" in games I've played and if anything, I'm positive my group is not alone in that.

I know that for some people, there is a financial costs here that even when moderate when compared to other things (what is it, $4 for a Starbucks coffee) that you may not be able to afford it.

That's when you need to do the non-costing things. Get there early. Offer to help set up. Offer to hep clean up. Offer to take out the garbage if enough has accumulated during game time. There are things that don't cost any money that are appreciated.

Be the gamer you want to play with.

Are there any other positive attributes we gamers should be bringing to the table? Throw a comment down below!.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

K is For Knowledge

For many people in the so called 'industrialized' world, we live in an age of almost instant knowledge. Want to know stats of your favorite baseball team? What to know when a war started or ended? Google and other resources are handily available.

Our ability to know things is tremendous.

Our capacity to double that knowledge is ever increasing as the world becomes more networked. What took hundreds of years to double the body of human knowledge is now a fraction of that time.

The problem is that people are involved in such information.

For example, you look at a web site like "You Are Not So Smart" and it point out how terribly stupid people are.

Some of my favorites:

The Science of Misremembering. You can't trust your own memories. How horrible is that? As you age and your opinions change and your ideas evolve, hey, guess what? You tend to think you always thought that way. This could be one of the big reasons why politicians are always caught flip flopping on issues. It's not that they honestly don't remember holding another position, it's that their own brains have rewired their memories so that they've always thought, that what they currently think, is what they've always thought.

There's also the Black Swan effect. When things happen that no one thought would happen, people look on it and then invent whole scenarios and stories about why we didn't stop it. Why we didn't plan for it. All along the ability to actually plan for something of similar scope happening again? Ignored.

A great blog post by Post-Mortems, talks about the Whys of things. One of the things it points out, is that we honestly think we're going to be smarter in the future then we are today. For some reason, we've convinced ourselves that if we have a problem today, that if we have the exact same problem or a similar one in the future, because hey man, we make progress around here, it'll be easier to handle.

Big can of Nope there! If the effort isn't put in to advance the knowledge of how to prevent, fix, document, ad etcetera the problem to begin with, whoever comes after you is going to run into similar problems and have to start at ground zero in fixing them.

There's also the problem in that numbers mean what you want them to mean. You have to have a huge amount of context when dealing with numbers, including knowing what the other person's point and goal is.

For example, there are more white people on public aid then there are black people.

Counter, there is a higher ratio of black people on public aid than white people.

In both instances it's terrible that we need public aid to support people as opposed to having excellent job training, public college to assist in that training, and public health care to you know, not bankrupt anyone whose ever had medical issues, but each number tells you something and depending on who you're talking to, you'll be able to quickly see where they stand on a number of social issues.

K is for Knowledge but it's not something we should be proud of. When thinking about who you are, write it down. Come back to it in a month, in a year. Are you still the same person. When looking at a problem you've had in the past, write it down. Develop your method for dealing with it in the future. Did it happen again? Did it help?

Knowledge isn't just the regurgitation of information. It's the application.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

J is for Janissaries

Janissaries are a military force whose origins date back to the 14th century. Like many elite military groups, Osprey even has a book covering them.  In the fiction novel, The Religion, by Tim Willoocks, the main character is a former Janissary.

According to good old Wikipedia, they have a few traits that sound just about 'standard' and could be fit inspiration for any military organization.

Their original formation was as bodyguards and to be an elite unit. They were taken from slaves. Normally Greek and Albanian, due to the close proximity of those countries.

Hundreds of years later? That elite ranking is no longer in place and instead of being by deed, it was hereditary. Instead of being known for their loyalty and fighting ability, they became known for their corruption.

By the time their end came around? They were able to hold the government itself hostage with their numbers and positions. Not a palce you want to be for long term viability because at that point, you're no longer a benefit.

The Janissaries are a fascinating look at how a military organization changes with the times and not always for the better.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Frog God Games Grab Bag

Ye old Frog God Games, aka Necromancer Games recently sent out a coupon for the Grab Bag. It's $300 retail worth of product for $100. The coupon was $25 off of that.

I put in an order, mentioned a few of the things I already have, as a former backer of some of the Kickstarters and long time purchaser of Necromancer Games and Frog God Games products.

It was VERY quickly delivered. Packaging was top notch. Everything very well protected. Separated into different sleeves for maximum protection. There is a mix of OSR material in the form of Swords & Wizardry, as well as more modern gaming material in the form of Pathfinder support.

And here's what's in there.

Swords & Wizardry Coloring Album 4.99
Hex Crawl Chronicles: The Golden Meadows 9.99
Hex Crawl Chronicles: The Troll Hills 9.99
Hex Crawl Chronicles: The Pirate Coast 9.99
Hex Crawl Chronicles: The Shattered Empire 9.99
Swords & Wizardry MCMLXXV 9.99
Grimsgate 9.99
Saturn Night Special: Ice Tower of the Salka 9.99
Castle Baldemar's Dungeon 9.99
Razor Coast Map Folio 9.99 4.99
One Night Stands: Curse of Shadowhold 11.99
One Night Stands: The Spire of Iron and Crystal 11.99
Swords & Wizardry GM Screen 11.99
Razor Coast Freebooter's Guide 19.99
The Black Monastery 33.99
Razor Coast Heart of the Razor 39.99 19.99
Tome of Horrors 4 44.95
Rappan Athuk  Level 7B  9.99
Rappan Athuk Bestiary 8.99
Rappan Athuk Player's Guide 9.99
Rappan Athuk Level 7B 9.99
Rappan Athuk Cylopean Deeps Part 2: Cult of the Khyrll 9.99
318.74 293.76

Note that on the Rappan Athuk material, I'm 'guestimating' 9.99. There are no prices on it. I checked the Frog God Games website and they have a few of these listed, one of them for $8.99 so I adjusted that price, but many not at all. I also received two copies of Rappan Athuk Level 7B for some reason.

Note that where you see a secondary cost, such as with Razor Coast Map Folio and Razor Coast Heart of the Razor, I included that because when you pay full for the listed price on Paizo's web site, you get the PDF as well. If you were looking for a more 'accurate' count, you really should take the cost of the PDF , which gives you $294.76. Still a hell of a bargain. Less still of a bargain if you're a smart shopper and visit places like Noble Knight Games that have quite a few of these on sale for less, sometimes significantly less, than these prices.

Good news? I actually don't have any of it.

Bad news? Not a fan of Swords & Wizardry so the Razor Coast stuff, while useful for background information, will probably wind up going out.

The other stuff looks like it's useful for one shots. The Tome of Horror 4... I've read unflattering reviews of it but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt for now and try to find time to do an actual review later.

For those who've ordered the mystery grab bags from +Frog God Games , what did you get? Any stands outs? Any particular bits that you didn't know that you would love?

For me, I suspect the Black Monastery will be getting a run in the near distant future (meaning I'm in the middle of an Adventure Path now but...).