Monday, 17 September 2018

Magic in Xish

I'm sticking to the Vancian paradigm, because as I've said before that shit is a lot weirder in the source material than four decades of just being "the way magic works in D&D" can make it seem. But in the context of Xish, specifically, what is magic? And who are the people who use it?

One thing that gets lost in translation from Vance, at least in later editions, is that magic really seems to be a matter of just finding spells and reading them. At least in the first novel, which is all I've read, there's not much indication that "being a wizard" is an intense vocation that you devote your whole life to (by the second chapter, T'Sain seems to know as many spells as Turjan, despite having only been created in a vat very recently)... except in the sense that that's what it takes to actually gather together and find spells.

Because in The Dying Earth, magic seems to be as on the way out as everything else. There are only ~100 known spells, the rest having been lost to time. Anyone can learn a spell, because spells are just weird words on a page that imprint themselves on your brain until you cast it. But the people who actually know a lot of spells seem to be the ones who devote most of their life to tracking down moldering old books (or are rich and/or powerful enough to have people do it for them) - because it's not learning spells that takes efforts, it's finding the damn things to learn in the first place.

Of course, that's not quite the whole story. It's strongly implied in Vance that learning a spell is a physical process; he never really talks about "memorizing" spells, it's more like spells are something physically stored in your brain. They take up space in there. That's why you can only have so many ready to go at one time - there's just a hard physical limit. It seems clear that, aside from tracking down books, a large part of a magic-user's time would have to be training his brain to fit more and more spells in there. In D&D terms, gaining new "spell slots" really just means that you've managed to increase your brain's magical storage capacity. Which, again, in theory is something anyone could do - but it takes time.

So in Xish, that's what makes magic-users magic-users: they've devoted a significant portion of their life to finding and reading arcane texts, carefully studying them on the off-chance that there's a spell in there (as in Dying Earth, magic is rare, and the number of available spells is only a fraction of what it once was), and another significant portion to daily meditation and mental exercises so that you can actually memorize the spells you've collected. There is, otherwise, nothing to being a magic-user; there's no "gift" one has to be born with, though being particularly intelligent of course helps (i.e. having hight INT, thereby increasing experience as a prime req and/or granting bonus spell slots, depending on edition).

This especially works in older editions of the game, where the only thing actually tracked by numbers on your sheet is how many spells of each level you can memorize per day. The spells you actually have in your spell book are purely a function of in-game shit: i.e. finding spells to put in there. Nothing's stopping a 1st level wizard from writing Power Word: Kill down in his book; he just can't fit it into his noggin yet. 

Of course, on this paradigm it still seems as though everyone in the party could theoretically know at least a few spells: why couldn't a high INT fighter have a gander at his friend's spell book and memorize at least one or two, if there's nothing inherently special about being a magic-user?

Well, for one, wizards don't share. Every spell a magic-user knows is a jealously-guarded secret. After all - it takes a ton of effort to track down even the simplest spells. Remember: there aren't just scrolls floating around everywhere in this world, and there certainly aren't any fucking "magic shops" you can drop in on. There are a finite number of genuine magical texts out in the world, and most of them are already in some other magic-user's carefully-trapped collection. You really have to dig for that shit. Sometimes you have to do some unsavory things (in practical terms, the best thing to do as soon as you meet another magic-user is to kill him and jack his spell book). And now this meathead wants you to let him just read a couple of them? Fat fucking chance.

An upshot of this is that in Xish there are no fucking magical colleges or wizard schools. Magic-users don't even take on apprentices, because, again, you don't actually need someone to teach you how to use magic. You just need the spells. So any old wizard taking some young aspiring caster under his wing is just begging to get his throat slit in his sleep so the kid can raid his library.

The other main thing, and here I'm borrowing more from Lovecraft than Vance, is that learning magic ain't good for you. It's not shit man was meant to fuck with - no one even really knows where these spells ultimately come from, they're just shit written down in old books by guys that have been dead for who knows how long. And those guys don't seem to have had much idea where spells come from either. So whenever you memorize a spell - which, remember, means physically storing it in your brain - it's the equivalent of picking up some fungus you see lying around sometimes and popping it in your mouth. You just hope you're not poisoning yourself, but you don't really know. And in reality, you are. All magic-users are slowly going insane, because turns out you actually shouldn't ingest stuff you have no idea what it is or where it comes from.

And magic-users all know that, on some level. The first time you memorize a spell, it feels wrong; something's in your brain that's not supposed to be there. The guys who become magic-users are the ones who ignore that feeling and push on, gradually becoming used to it. But the average person who memorized a spell for the first time would nope the fuck out of the whole enterprise. So even if a magic-user was inclined to share spells with the rest of the party, chances are they're not interested anyway.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Xish New Users' Guide

I just realized I should probably recap what this setting is all about instead of just linking to older posts about it, especially since my thinking has developed and some things have changed since I wrote those. I also need to some sort of quick 1-2 page document that I can send players if I ever get a chance to run this thing again. So here I am, killing two birds with one stone.


Earth, millennia from now. The sun hangs dim and red in the sky and most land has been swallowed by the oceans. Only a single large landmass remains: the continent of Xish. Technology and social structures have devolved to recall Dark Ages Europe, not that anyone living now would know what that is. Sorcery and all manner of strange creatures have returned to the land.

A handful of centuries prior to when the campaign takes place, the High Kingdom of Xish ruled over the continent and brought a measure of stability and security to the land. Now, that kingdom exists in name only: many of its great population centres have fallen to attack or starvation, and the ones that remain subsist effectively as independent city-states. Many of the great roadways have been lost to the ever-enroaching wilderness. Outside of the few pockets of a dwindling civilization, Xish is wild, dangerous, and littered with the ruins of a bygone era.

Within those pockets, the prevailing mood is one of doom. Mankind is on the way out, and everyone knows it. Some seek solace from this fact in decadence, mindless violence, or the pursuit of arcane power; other embrace it, by turning to one of the numerous apocalyptic death cults that have popped up in recent years. Some of these cults worship alien entities that have increasingly come to be regarded as gods; they are, at least, the closest thing the world now has.


Follow all rules and guidelines in the Labyrinth Lord core book, except for the following changes, additions, and clarifications.



Roll 3d6 for each, in the order listed on the character sheet. If the column you rolled contains no single score of at least 13 and/or contains two scores of 5 or less, you may (but don't have to) roll a new one. Anything else is a character that must be played for at least one full session, after which (assuming they don't die) you can choose to retire them, keeping in mind that your new character will not be "caught up on" any XP or treasure gained by the retired character. 



Remember: in Labyrinth Lord fighters, clerics, magic-users and thieves are all assumed to be human. Non-humans don't get a separate class: you're a halfling, not a halfling thief. Note that the non-humans do have certain minimum stat requirements.

Humans are either Xishan (pick a city-state to hail from, or you be from some minor village, or just an unattached wandering weirdo) or Skreelan (a nomadic barbarian from the island of Skreel, where the fearsome goat-man tribes also live). Skreelans can't be magic-users but this is otherwise just a flavour thing.

Clerics pick from the gods detailed in "Religion," below. They are not necessarily associated with any of that gods' cults; the only thing that unites all clerics is that they have been singled out for "the gift" by one being or another, generally for unknown reasons.

Magic-users cannot be lawful.
    Dwarves and halflings are artificial humanoids, bred in vats by means of strange alchemical procedures. For centuries mankind has employed them as slave races: dwarves for mining and building, halflings for domestic tasks. Occasionally a master will free one or more of their dwarves or halflings, but even then they're likely to be kidnapped and enslaved by someone else if they're not careful. More often, they simply escape and pose as freed. There are a number of secret "freeholds," comprised of a few hundred to a thousand escaped dwarves and halflings, throughout Xish - more these days than ever before, now that the High Kingdom doesn't exist as a real entity and the individual city-states don't really have the resources to systematically hunt for and recapture freeholds like the old High Kings used to do.

    Elves are enigmatic beings that spawn in the infamous Howling Wood, in northeastern Xish, and occasionally stumble out with only vague and jumbled memories of what goes on in there. They have a natural affinity for magic, and do not require a spell book. Instead, elves possess bizarre compartmentalized minds: the spells they have learned are stored, in full, in some alien and normally inert corner of their memory, to which they bring conscious attention in order to memorize spells as magic-users memorize them from their books.

    Their presence is grudgingly accepted in Xishan society (in Skreel, both barbarians and goat-men will attack them on sight), thanks to a healthy respect for the Howling Wood's status as a A Place That Nobody In Their Right Mind Would Want to Fuck With. Some elves settle down, most take up lives as wanderers, adventurers, and thrill-seekers. Their motives and drives are obscure, most of all to themselves. All Elves are Chaotic.


    Most Xishans are functionally agnostic, but retain a healthy respect and fear for the beings others call gods. Worship of these beings is growing increasingly popular, however. Various cults are associated with each, and all are quite public these days; no one feels the need to hide cult membership from anyone. The most popular cults are those that tie their interpretation of the god's will to a theme of apocalyptic hopelessness.

    The Skreelan barbarian tribes mostly worship old gods, with names and identities that would be at least vaguely familiar to a student of comparative mythology in our own time. Some point to the fact that there are no clerics of these gods (i.e. their worship never grants spells) as proof that they do not, in fact, exist, or at least that they have no power. Most Skreelans deny this, obviously, but as a result some tribes have turned to the worship of the very real Bone Jackson, god of the goat-men (see below).

    (This is where a list of gods will go, but I'm working on fine-tuning the descriptions and adding a few new ones. When it's done, it'll get its own post, but in the meantime you can read my first write-up).


    Law represents a belief that humankind holds a privileged place in the cosmos and/or that civilization is necessary and that it's a bad thing that it's currently going to shit.

    Chaos represents embracing the decline of humanity and recognizing how utterly inconsequential it is in the grand scheme of things. Certain beings are also Chaotic by nature; an elf or a goat-man wouldn't necessarily express its world view in the above terms, but just by existing it is a living manifestation of the infinitesimal importance of human beings in the cosmos. Magic is a Chaotic phenomenon in this sense, hence the restriction on lawful magic-users.

    Neutral generally means you don't incline either way. Animals and beings with very low intelligence, unless naturally Chaotic, are neutral by default. Neutral magic-users are understood as struggling to maintain some sense of being disaffected by the irreducibly alien nature of the power they wield.

    I'm still undecided as to how spells and items that affect specific alignments will work on this scheme. Most likely I'll just drop them entirely.



    Whether you can read or write in the languages you know is a function of INT score, as per the table on the LL core book, pg. 7.

    When it comes to picking bonus languages for high INT, use the following list. Languages that are known automatically (i.e. don't require the use of a bonus slot) by a particular races/class are indicated as such. Note that there are no alignment languages.
    • Low Xishan is spoken, in various dialects, throughout the continent, the de facto lingua franca. Automatically known by all characters.
    • Skreelan is the shared language of the barbarian tribes of Skreel, and has much in common with the brutal language of the goat-men (60% chance to make oneself understood to a goat-man who doesn't already know Skreelan). Automatically known by Skreelan humans.
    • Vatspeak is not so much a full-blown language as something between a very complex dialect of Low Xishan and a "trade tongue," developed over centuries amongst dwarves and halflings, who know it automatically. Note that it still costs a full bonus slot for other races to know.
    • High Xishan is the original of which Low Xishan is a distant and corrupted version; it's like the different between Old and modern English (i.e. without actually knowing the language there's no chance to do more than pick out what may or may not be some common words). Once spoken in all of the High Kingdom, it is now known mainly to scholars and a handful of nobles (mostly those whose families have lived in the old capital for a long time). It is exclusively a written language at this point, the specifics of pronunciation and such having been lost to time.
    • Goat-man is the language of the goat-men of Skreel. 60% chance a Skreelan speaker can get the gist. Unlike Skreelan, it has no written component. 
    • (I'll need a few more, but that's all I've got for now. This might also get its own post).

    Phew! That's a bit long and unwieldy for a player doc, I might have to cut it down a bit. Hopefully it at least works as a blog post!

    Sunday, 9 September 2018

    Xish 2.0

    Here's a map:

    The scale is 25 miles from one side of a hex to the other. It was originally 6 miles, but everything felt a bit cramped, and in my recent hex crawl reading I've come to the conclusion that the most straightforward procedure is 1 hex = 1 day's travel = 1 roll on the encounter table, and that means a larger hex scale. It also means the map can reasonably be keyed with just major sites/landmarks/notable features while minor encounters like monster lairs, smaller villages, etc. can all be handled with random tables. I do get the utility of having a key ready to go with things like "12 orcs in a lean-to," but in the end it doesn't seem particularly necessary.

    While I was adjusting the scale I went ahead and rearranged some things and added a few regions compared to my original hand-drawn map. I may or may not add more cities (smaller settlements will be filled in on the level of the regional maps). I will definitely add more castles/towers/fortresses; right now I just have the obligatory necromancer's tower in the desert. The dungeon near the bottom of the Meethrep Forest where it borders the Painted Hills is, of course, the Crater of Termination.

    A couple of the terrain symbols may not be obvious, and/or their names may not indicate what they are. The Hanging Man Valley is badlands (I actually used Hexographer's "broken ground" symbol, because the badlands symbol just looks like desert). The Redcap Forest is a fungal forest.

    The map changes have necessitated a few conceptual changes. Originally, Xish was conceived of one of the islands of a small chain of islands, the rest of the Earth having been swallowed up by the oceans by now (to refresh: this is a "dying Earth" scenario, where the campaign world is our actual Earth however millions of years into the future, where its time is almost up). Now that it's a lot bigger, that's no longer tenable, so Xish is the name of the last continent. In this sense, I am now straightforwardly ripping off Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique stories, down to the name of the last continent starting with a "z" sound. Call it "an homage."

    Other islands referred to in previous write-ups are still there, they're just actual small islands off the coast of Xish now: Skreel (renamed from Skarshex or some dumb shit like that), where the barbarian humans and goat-men live; and the Isle of Akrillug, named for the god-being that lives there after having destroyed all its inhabitants, not to mention all plant and animal life, as detailed here.

    I'll give a rundown of the different regions in another post, or maybe each region will get its own write-up with an outline of a few points of interest. At this point, some I have a really good idea about, and some I don't. And with that deeply insightful note on my creative process, I leave you.

    Thursday, 6 September 2018

    Let's Try This Again: Return to Xish

    Alright, so last time I recommitted to updating regularly, I managed seven posts. Let's see if I can make it to eight this time before abandoning everything for another nine months!

    This time, believe it or not, I'm not even introducing a brand new setting idea.

    This post got me thinking a lot about my creative process. In the post HDA describes feeling stuck with his Shadows of Annwn setting, because the strong theme leads to a difficulty in coming up with ideas that fit, and thus it's actually easier to come up with ideas for a looser, less-defined setting like the Pathfinder game he's currently running.

    At first I thought that might be true of my own attempts at developing D&d settings as well, but after thinking about it today I realized I actually sort of have the opposite problem. The first setting I ever wrote about, back when I was still just guest-posting on HDA's blog, was pretty thematically strong, and I (mostly accidentally, I think) managed to capture everything I like about pulp fantasy old-school D&D weirdness.

    I have creative ADHD, as the two of you who actually read this blog know, so I quickly began to flit from idea to idea - but almost every idea I've ever had could, with a little modification in some cases or almost none in others, easily work in Xish. Everything I would want to do with an old school D&D game is in roughly the same thematic pocket, and all I'm doing when I come up with other settings is taking ideas that should go in that first setting, where I presented those themes best and strongest, and putting them into a diluted, half-assed version.

    Not to mention, I actually did a lot of work that first time around. Somehow I managed to sustain myself through: drawing up a world map, with keyed hexes for a few regions and all the major cities and some major feature locations placed; a rough idea of all the political divisions; the first few levels of a megadungeon that actually has a reason to be there; a bunch of random encounter tables for wilderness and dungeon; in-world justifications for why the fuck elves, dwarves and halflings are there; a rough idea of all the major races and NPC players; a bunch of interesting (or at least semi-unique) gods and cults, etc. Maybe that's not a lot from the perspective of someone who's actually productive and focused, but it's a lot for me. Why go through all that shit again with something new?

    I've also actually run the fucking thing. Not a lot, but I had a more or less regular weekly campaign going with some friends over Roll20 for a few months. Eventually it sort of morphed into us just doing Tegel Manor (which I plopped down close to the Crater of Termination and which a couple of the PCs from that game currently own), but they explored a good chunk of the first couple levels of the Crater and some of the surrounding wilderness. I got a pretty good hands-on idea of some things that worked and some that didn't.

    So I'm going to try to rein myself in and focus on one fucking thing goddamn it, and it's going to be Xish. I've been reading a lot of old hex crawl settings (mostly Wilderlands and the original World of Greyhawk folio) and reading a lot about hex crawling in general on the OSR blogosophere, so I'm going to work on that aspect of things for a bit. Maybe do up a proper map in Hexographer or something. Then I can collect together the scattered notes, keys and tables I have so far, and start expanding on it. I'm not going to commit myself to focusing in on any particular things; I got this far by just iteratively building on stuff that caught my interest at any given time, and that's what I'll keep doing. Maybe a bit more organized.

    Anyway, expect some posts on that shit soon, hopefully.

    Friday, 26 January 2018

    The Six Cloven Princes: Overview

    Just a few brief notes on each for now; as promised, they'll all get their own posts eventually. As per the name, they all have cloven hooves for feet, but unless this is specifically mentioned in their entry then it's going to be quite subtle; not full-on goat legs, literally just hooves where you'd maybe expect feet.

    Into: suffering, pain, torture, convincing lesser beings to carry its babies
    Manifests as: gargantuan gray blob with thousands of mouths and hooves; each of the mouths speaks when it talks, all saying something subtly different

    Into: the fundamental fragility of matter, entropy, elaborate ritual sacrifices
    Manifests as: 20 foot tall ape-like creature covered in weeping sores and a head every orifice of which oozes black sludge 

    Old Thorn
    Into: the alien unknowable terror of nature, Byzantine plots that take centuries to unfold, kidnapping kids and replacing them with doppelgangers
    Manifests as: naked old Venusian man from whom sprout innumerable grotesque thorns

    Into: secret knowledge, frenzied sex rites, doing drugs
    Manifests as: Goat-headed goat-legged Earthling man, jacked like a bodybuilder

    Into: bugs, plague, overseeing the Slime Hive
    Manifests as: beautiful Venusian woman whose body is covered in holes in and out of which buzz millions of flies, wasps, bees, etc.

    Stillwater Jack
    Into: mutation, the ultimate randomness of the cosmos, drowning people
    Manifests as: giant half-goat half-squid that lives in a slimy black lake

    Tuesday, 23 January 2018

    Lost Sepulchers of Venus: Witchery 101

    Alright, laying out the basics of the Witch class and how magic works on Venus. Nothing too specific or detailed yet, just a rough sketch.

    "Witch" is the most common term, but "wizard," "sorcerer," "necromancer," etc. all denote the same thing: someone who strikes a bargain with one of the Six Cloven Princes and thereby gains access to Powers Man Wasn't Meant to Have. Who are the Six Cloven Princes? Extradimensional horrors who live (sometimes, in some form) on Venus. Each is uniquely monstrous, in both appearance and personality; the only commonality is they all have cloven hooves of some sort. Basically, they're a cross between Lovecraft's Great Old Ones and Medieval depictions of Satan. Don't worry, each of them (and their unique servitor races) are going to get their own post.

    In mechanical terms, the Witch replaces the Magic-user and the Cleric. Like the Cleric, they're not quite as capable in combat as the Fighting-man but aren't too shabby. They can use most weapons and some armour. Witch spells take the form of elaborate rituals for binding and controlling weird entities, sending their minds backwards and forwards in time, cursing items, shit like that. Nothing of immediate utility in combat, but which presents a lot of possibilities for clever players. Obviously, I'm filching liberally from Carcosa here, but another reference point is Call of Cthulhu, where most spells are for contacting/calling weird beings and doing other stuff that generally won't help you when you're right in the middle of the shit. Also like Carcosa, certain spells will require certain items, being in certain places at certain times, etc. As I've said before, I really like Carcosa's idea of rituals as adventure hooks: if you have a spell that requires you to be on the Frozen Plains of Amin-Zul on a full moon, you know there's a place called the Frozen Plains of Amin-Zul somewhere.

    Witches will start with a couple spells, and to get more they have to perform tasks for their patron, which gives the DM more adventure hooks. They'll also probably get some sort of familiar that functions as the main way they communicate with their Prince, though most of the Princes expect their Witches to visit them in person at least once.

    Obviously, Witches are never getting the better deal: the shit they have to do is not pleasant, and obviously your soul is effectively property of a hideous hellbeast the second you say "You've got a deal." Which, I guess leads us to the question of how Witches get to the position of making bargains with hideous hellbeasts in the first place. It's your usual culprits here: reading too much, spending too much time alone listening to weird music, falling in with other Witches because you want to get laid, etc.

    Monday, 22 January 2018

    Lost Sepulchers of Venus: Races

    So I've decided on there being no mechanical difference between the three races, though I like the idea of certain spells or items only working on certain races, or having different effects depending on races.

    I've also decided that the non-native races are the descendants of immigrants from many centuries ago. The secret of space travel was lost with the collapse of the still as-yet-unnamed Old Empire; everyone knows it was/is possible, and that the lack of any new interplanetary visitors has something to do with the Empire being gone. Unbeknownst to the general populace, visitors from other planets do still show up every once in awhile, but it's all a bit more surreptitious and these fellows aren't available as player races.

    Martians and Earthlings have various traditions, myths, etc. that tell them about their old planets, but it's obviously a centuries-long game of telephone so shit's gonna be way off, and who knows what those places are really like?

    Alright, anyway. These write-ups are brief, but it's all you need:

    Venusians have green skin and white hair, but otherwise look very similar to Martians and Earthlings. Venus is a land of crumbling kingdoms, whose peoples are prone to prejudice and superstition - especially when it comes to sorcery.

    Martians are red-skinned and completely hairless. They tend to be taciturn and humorless. They are almost as common in the Venusian kingdoms as Venusians themselves, having lived amongst them for seemingly forever. They form the bulk of the "working class" (craftsmen and such) and a good deal of the peasantry.

    Earthlings come in a variety of skin colours. They are much rarer compared to Martians, and tend to live in slums or their own villages. They are generally more curious and interested in knowledge than either Venusians or Martians; a consequence of this is that more Earthlings wind up being Witches. The other two races know this, and treat Earthlings with suspicion (borderline hostility in the case of Venusians) more or less by default.

    Friday, 19 January 2018

    Lost Sepulchers of Venus: The Basics

    As I said last post, I've been cooking up yet another new setting for use with my own "hack" of White Box OD&D. Tentatively titled Lost Sepulchers of Venus, it takes place, as you may have guessed, on Venus. Prior to the first probe encounter with the planet, science fiction writers had a lot of leeway with depicting the topography of Venus, since the only thing we can tell about it from Earth is that its surface is covered in clouds. According to Wikipedia, most tried to account for what a planet covered in thick layers of cloud would be like, and thus depicted it as either one big ocean, an arid desert, or a humid ball of swamp and jungle something like prehistoric Earth. I'm going with that last one.

    It's a science-fantasy setting, obviously. At this point in time, the Venusian populace is sparse, spread amongst a few meagre kingdoms, all around the technological and societal level of 14th century Europe. At the edges of these kingdoms lie a great frontier, once the territory of an enormous Empire, technologically advanced and sorcerously powerful. These very sorceries brought about its downfall, some centuries ago, and now the ruins of its cities, outposts and machines lie scattered all throughout the vast wilderness. Only recently have some shaken off the powerful superstition about the place, and begun to venture into these ruins, to see what marvels might lie waiting to be unearthed.

    At this point, I'm thinking three races: green-skinned native Venusians, red-skinned Martians, and pink-and-black-and-whatever-else-skinned Earthlings. How the Martians and Earthlings got there, I have no idea yet. Subject for another post.

    Class-wise, I'm thinking: Fighting-man, Thief, maybe some variation on the Cleric but I'll have to think about this, and then the Witch I mentioned last post in place of the Magic-user. I've already got some ideas about who (or make that what) Witches make their dark bargains with. More on that another time.

    Speaking of magic, I may also incorporate something like Carcosa's rituals (minus the ickier stuff) that any class can perform if they really want to Fuck With Things That Shouldn't Be Fucked With. The one thing I really like about the rituals is many of them require specific items and/or need to be cast in specific locations. It really adds an extra layer of meaning and impetus to exploration.

    Play-wise, I'm conceiving of this as something of a hex crawl with small to mid-sized dungeons scattered throughout the ruins, and probably one legendary megadungeon, the location of which wouldn't be known at the outset.

    Wednesday, 17 January 2018

    Thoughts on Hacking OD&D

    I picked up PDFs of the original (well, 2013 reprint) of the White Box "little brown books" and Supplement I: Greyhawk off of Drivethru RPG the other day; this is the first I've heard of their existence, but it turns out WotC released them over a year ago now.

    Just from my first flip-through it became clear I was never going to be able to run anything with these unless I spent some time reorganizing them for myself and house-ruling away the many ambiguities and a few things I just don't like, but my understanding is this is in keeping with the received wisdom about OD&D: no two OD&D campaigns are going to be the same, because every DM is essentially forced to house-rule and interpret them. So I've been essentially writing my own personal "clone" of the rules, for my own use and for distribution to whatever players I could rope into playing this thing with me. That accomplished, I also plan to make a version that incorporates the various changes and additions from Supplment I, for an "AD&D Light." I may or may not incorporate the rest of the supplements, because it seems like the more you add the more you might as well just be playing 1st Edition AD&D.

    But working through the rules in this fashion has made me realize in a tangible way what I've always read in regard to OD&D: that it's the most "hackable" version of the game, i.e. the easiest one to turn into whatever sort of broadly D&D-descended game you want. It's the most barest-bones version with the most room for moving into various different directions thanks to the aforementioned ambiguities.

    So now I've been thinking about what my ideal version of D&D would look like. Here are some scattered thoughts on what I'd retain/add/change if I was building my own version of D&D out of the OD&D core:
    • XP for gold would absolutely have to stay. More and more, I've been thinking that this and this alone is the most essential thing for the "old-school" D&D feel.
    • No elves, dwarves, or halflings, i.e. no Tolkienisms. Whether or not these might be replaced by other races, and whether that would be in the form of race-as-class, would probably depend on the setting/feel/flavour I wanted to capture. Which leads me to my next point:
    • Setting baked into the rules. If I'm hacking the rules for myself anyway, there's no point in keeping them generic. It's not like I'm trying to be the umpteenth person to market their own version of D&D that anyone can use for whatever settings, I'd want something perfectly tailored to whatever I was trying to do. So monsters, races, spells, items and all that jazz would probably all be cooked up from scratches, or at least heavily tailored.
    • Speaking of spells, I really want to make magic seem fucked-up, dangerous and otherworldly, and I think one of the easiest way to do that is to ditch Vancian magic. Not that it isn't weird and otherworldly, because as I've written elsewhere, I think it is, but as I also wrote there I think a lot of effort is required on the DM's part to really shake off the veneer of banal acceptance that's glommed onto that system after decades of ubiquity. To that end, I think something like Palladium's Witch (or, for that matter, 3rd edition D&D's Witch) would be the main spellcasting class, i.e. magic is a matter of making bargains with one or more dark powers. As such, it's inherently Chaotic, and doing it in public will probably get you burned at the stake.
    • Not sure whether I'd want to keep Clerics/Divine magic; if "regular" magic is the result of making bargains with otherworldly entities, then Divine magic would seem to be the same thing. I guess I really depends if I want there to be any "good" gods or not.
    • I'd make the combat rules a little more codified, which is mostly a concession to some of the people I regularly play with who found OD&D combat unsatisfying. Something like what Lamentations of the Flame Princess does for explicitly formalizing the kinds of actions you can take in combat, or maybe even something as complex as AD&D.
    That's all my thoughts so far. If it sounds like this is probably leading me into thinking up yet another setting to work on, you are correct.

    Monday, 15 January 2018

    The Church of the Holy Scale

    In Keep on the Borderlands, at least as I read it, it's strongly implied that the official religion of the land is more or less an analogue for Medieval Christianity. When I ran my own take on B2, I made them snake handlers, pretty much on a whim. Here's a (slightly) more sketched-out version of that idea.

    The Church of the Holy Scale, like its real-life inspiration, is devoted to the worship of a god with neither a definite name (they too just go with "God") nor definite characteristics. He/she/it is most often depicted as a great serpent encircling the world, though this is to be interpreted more or less literally depending on whom you ask. Metaphorically or not, God is associated with snakes over and over in the sacred texts. Like a snake, God is understood to be coldly indifferent to anything but its own affairs, despite having created the world and man for its own inscrutable reasons - though it appears to have a general affinity for order and stability (i.e. the Lawful side of the alignment spectrum).

    On the other hand, God also has the hunger of the snake, in this case the hunger for worship and adulation. Thus it offers those who pledge themselves to it a chance at eternal life and (for some) a share of its power in the form of clerical magic. Worship services take the form of handling venomous snakes, specially blessed and maintained by the priesthood, who will never bite those with the true allegiance to God in their hearts. Priests are forbidden to use any but blunt weapons because sharp points and edges, like the snake's fangs, are instruments of God's punishment not to be taken up by mere men.

    Structure and organization of the Church is a matter of specific campaign needs. For my B2 game, I assumed it was more or less the only (Lawful) religion in town, and that there was some central Vatican-like seat somewhere, but that such things were generally irrelevant to the sort of hinterland places that B2 is supposed to take place in (the Pope isn't stopping by to inspect some random parish on the edge of the Blasted Wastes or wherever, and most folks just take the lead of their local priests and clerics). But it could just as easily be only one religion among many, maybe an offshoot of some Cult of Yig, or something.