Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zeitgeist


The year is 1979 Imperial Reckoning.

The great Imperik Empire, founded 1979 years ago has crumbled into a hundreds little kingdoms and territorities. The spirit of this age is one of decay and decline.

The Imperiks hold on to the dream that their empire can once again be restored. Del Reloes, "The City of Peace," in the land of Gothlor still stands as a beacon of hope in an endarkening world. The Imperik's hold on to the idea that they are Virtoaa's Chosen people, meant to rule.

The so-called "lesser races" of men--the Ethodians, the Abu-Steins, the Pithadians, the Avechenans--have only begun to taste the freedom so long denied to them by the Imperik masters. Even so, the struggle for self-sovereignty is a long and diffcult one, frought with betrayal and blood. Some have even turned to the old gods. But will these gods listen to their prayers or has Virtoaa permanently silenced them?

In many places, humankind's civilization has become narrow and constricted. Goblins of the Woods, Demons of the Earth, Dragons of the Air, and Titans of the Mountains have mulitplied, and have made incursions into realms once thought strong.

Many fear that these are the Signs of the Times, the End of Days before the Second Coming of the Demon General Diminfragt...


Monday, April 29, 2013

Mini Monday: Demon and Giant Undead Cyclops, and other Gaming News

I've had a great couple weekends of gaming at Treefort Games. The weekend before last, we played Italian Wars used a variant of Neil Thomas's Ancient and Medieval Wargaming rules. You can check out the pictures over at Mikeopolis.

Last Saturday I ran a Neil Thomas Hundred Year's War game (sorry, no pics). It was French vs. Italian Condottieri, late war. The French won despite having their center collapse. Later I even played a game of chess while others tried out the new Saga wargaming rules for the Viking Age. It's a skirmish-level game. It looks enjoyable, and I like the idea of having an "army" with only needing, at most, 30 figures.

That evening we played the old Star Wars d6 RPG, by West End Games. My character basically pulled a Rambo on a .50 Cal. and shot up a Imperial Base with a vehicle-mounted blaster. I leveled two guard towers, wounding one stormtrooper; blasted through the front gate; destroyed a guard post killing one stormtrooper and wounding another; blew up an enemy speeder killing both driver and gunner, and wounding two nearby officers (one got trapped beneath the wreckage); shot and killed a stormtrooper in upper story window; destroyed a second guard post killing the stormtrooper inside; got wounded while shooting another stormtrooper; then I dismounted the vehicle and killed two more stormtroopers with my vibroblade.

Yeah... fun times!

The only possible downside to the weekend was my Expeditions in the Northlands Campaign didn't get resurrected as I hoped. But that was my fault, I didn't promote it well enough. Still, I had a fun time just hanging out and talking to people.

Anyway, here's the miniatures I've painted in the last couple of weeks.


These miniatures are old. I think they're both from Grenadier. I bought them back in 1992 or so, when I thought the miniatures just looked cool but had no idea how to paint them. I remember using the Cyclops for HeroQuest a few times.



They didn't even get primed until after 2000 or so. The cyclops's arm broke and some point. And the demon's wings remained detached. He stayed black until I finished painting him last week, though I gave him red eyes. I did paint the cyclops, but never really finished him up until a couple weeks ago. Neither were based.



On both miniatures I used Reaper's Aged Bone and Necrotic Flesh for the bones on the cyclops and the skin on the demon. For the bases I used various shades of gray. The stone at the cyclops's feet is made of green stuff. I gave the skeleton a Reaper Walnut wash before adding the final dry brushing.


I added a layer of green stuff to the demon's base and carved out the symbols. I didn't get it as flat as I'd like, but oh well. Perhaps the demon got summoned on an uneven cavern floor. I used quite a bit of inking for the shading. 

Prior to this, so far this year for 52 Weeks, 52 Miniatures I've painted 3 Mouslings, a Mordheim Priest and a Skeleton Archer.

With the cyclops and demon that makes 7 out of 52 miniatures.

Yeah, I need to finish up some more projects.

Y is for Year 1979, Imperial Reckoning



1979 I. R. is the "default" date for the Domikka campaign and fiction setting.

Murder on the Hot Flats my upcoming 8,000 word story, takes place in the summer of that year.

Anything I published before that date is considered "canon," anything after "expanded universe."

If I publish a campaign "sourcebook," it'll be more like the old World of Greyhawk campaign boxed set. Here's a bit of history, some special rules, a bit of geography, some cool maps, and... go!

While I have no idea if it'll ever come to this, I never want Domikka to be a haven for fans (both readers and RPG players) to push canon on other players and referees. That's one of the things that irked me about the Forgotten Realms. Yeah, sure, it was and still is the most comprehensive campaign setting out there, but I knew I lot of players felt compelled to stick with what was written in the fiction books.

It was like if you hadn't kept up with the fiction or rules supplement, you were being left out. And, in the few times I played in a Forgotten Realms game, I got annoyed at the local Realms Loremaster--"Oh, how can you not know about 'spellfire?'"

I also don't want to "blow up" Domikka, like what happened so many other fantasy settings, like both Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms. I rolled my eyes at WotC's announcement of  "The Sundering" for the Forgotten Realms at Gen Con 2012.

Why can't they do something cool, like team up with Games Workshop to have Space Marines invade the Realms?


Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for X-citing News, "Murder on the Hot Flats"


I've got nothing for the A to Z Blogging Challenge for Domikka. Zilch. Okay, the equivalent of the letter "x" rarely appears in the Low Imperik language. Does that count?

Or how about news that the final revisions for my story "Murder on the Hot Flats" are underway. It takes place in Domikka. It'll be published in pdf.

Follow Till Wilderwine as he discovers the captain of his mercenary company strangled. Moments later, a fellow mercenary discovers Till with the body and accuses him of murder. Both are then summoned to battle the heathen Hazahdians in a holy war to the death.

Can Till, with his zweihänder called Titanhauer (Titan-Hewer), clear his name and survive long enough to exact vengence on the captain's killer?

It'll be published on Amazon.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook, by Matt Finch





My order from Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day came on Thursday, the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook and the module Grimmsgate (which I'll cover in an upcoming post), both written by Matt Finch. Sure, I got the pdfs, too, but there's nothing quite like holding a physical book in your hands (call me old fashioned). Also, I got these just in time for the resurrection of my Expeditions in the Northlands Campaign, which takes place this Sunday.

Caveat: I'm already biased toward this system, (if you hadn't noticed) and tend to like more rules lite systems. I've been wanting to run this game for a few years now, but had to complete my D&D 3.5e campaign first.

For those who don't know what Swords & Wizardry is, let me summarize:

It a basic sense, it's an updated version of the original D&D rulebooks published way back in the 1970s. I don't want to call it a retroclone, because its not an exact emulation of these books. Instead it clarifies and expands on the rules/guidelines found in those early books and supplements. You can download the free pdf of the Swords & Wizardry basic rules here.

The Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook is an updated version of those basic rules found in that link, which only covers the four "iconic" character classes: fighter/fighting-man, cleric, magic-user, and thief. In this book, you also get the Assassin, Druid, Monk, Paladin, and Ranger. I would describe it as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons "lite," because it includes revisions of material found in the original 1974 boxed set, supplements, and the 1979 Holmes Edition.

The rulebook is, as it says, complete. You don't need any other books or supplements to run games. It includes sections on character creation, combat, spells, monsters, and magic items. Even to my delight, you'll find guidelines on conducting mass, aerial, and naval combat. And the layout is fairly simple and straightforward.

So why buy the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook?

I'm hesitant to call it a "rulebook," because it harkens back to the days when rules were more or less seen as guidelines. And that's the philosophy behind this updated version.

Also, those original rulebooks from the 1970s were (how shall I put this?) hard to decipher at times. There was hardly anything "complete" about them, just a bunch of options for players and "referees" to use as they see fit. The original D&D rules required that you had Chainmail to understand the combat system. Swords & Wizardry Complete brings many of these options into a coherent format all in one book.

Again, let me emphasize the words "guidelines" and "options":
--"0e", as the book calls the version of D&D from the 1970s, used combat tables. If you don't want to use those, it provides the "ascending AC" system that's found in more "modern" editions of D&D.
--You have four different methods of running combat rounds. Chose one and go with it.
--The alignment system is law, neutral, and chaos--but who's to say you can't integrate alignment graph from say, AD&D.
--I disagree with how the rules allocate bonuses to ability scores, I can change them with few problems.
--I've taken the character "funnelling system" from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG and integrated it with Swords & Wizardry with no problems.

Think of Swords & Wizardry Complete as template, one you can alter as you see fit.

In summary...

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10 (I'm kinda torn on this one. The rules themselves are updates from the originals, but yet the "spirit" of the game encourages lots of creativity).
Utility: 9 out of 10

Buy this if: you want a rules-lite RPG, easy to tinker with, simple to run even for players new to RPGs (in fact I encourage you to introduce new people to RPGs with this system), or if you want to run something similar to D&D back in the 1970s, but don't want to risk those little brown books.

Don't buy this if: You want a "complete" rule set with lots of "crunch" and rules that cover lots of specific situations.

Yeah, I know, I used Grognardia's system. But since it seems that J. M. is not longer updating that blog and has gone into hiding...

W is for The Word of Virtoaa


The Word of Virtoaa is a collection of books, canonized by the Church of Virtoaa, and divided into Three Testament. It serves as both a guide to Virtoaa's teachings and a history of the Imperik Race. The list of books are as follows.

The First Testament covers the creation of the world down to the enslavement of the Imperiks by the Hazahdians. It was written down sometime before this enslavement (roughly -1550 to -1500 I.R.) The first five books of the Second Testament were written down by Mohrdeo sometime after the Imperik Exodus (circa -500 I.R.) Additional books were added and became canonized in the 5th Century I.R.
The Third Testament started developing after the War of the Apocalypse (664 to 677 I.R.). The books were canonized in the early 16th century, after the development of the printing press in the 15th century.

First Testament
1. Origins                    
2. Tribes
3. Kingdoms
4. Nations
5. Sundering
6. Listeners
7. Bloodlines
8. Dreams
9. Epiphanies
10. Jodokus
11. Gundel
12. Agilward
13. Volsbaker
14. Jenkins
15. Engel
16. Klora
17. Hagar
18. Songs
19. Heartbreak
20. Longing
21. Prophets

Second Testament
1. Exodus                        27. Nakenvate
2. Laws                           28. Rorimir
3. Oracles                        29. Chaelund
4. Threes                         30. Berebek
5. Sevens                         31. Demdora
6. Nines                           33. Waen-Schutenwat
7. Kingdoms                    34. Aurebak
8. Gothlor                        35. Marmara
9. Surenaur                      36. Hazahd
11. Enrika                        37. Far Hazahd
12. Moranora                   38. Amelie
13. Kalkaert                     39. Fyrna
14. Durchveldt                 40. Oracles II
15. Moranora                   41. Babel
16. Kalkaert II                 42. Tempel
17. Erelund                      43. Cuthbert
18. Mountains                  44. Adelbert
19. Gothgrama                 45. Abu-Steins II
20. Helgemut                   46. Auroras
21. The Northlands          47. Petrona
22. Pateneer                     48. Brigitte
23. Jakusk                        49. Letters
24. Abek                          50. Monsters
25. Avechena                    51. Portents
26. Behl

Third Testment
1. Apokalypse
2. Muiress and Thur
3. Lamentations
4. Chronicles I
5. Chronicles II
6. Reconstruction
7. Gatherings
8. Conquests
9. Lamps
10. Cloaks
11. Lorinda
12. Millennium
13. Slayers
14. Asironians
15. Lindemann
16. Kruspe
17. Landers
18. Riedel
19. Doom
20. Lorenz
21. Visions (of The Second Coming of Diminfragt)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Virtoaa

If you've been following this blog, you've probably notice I keep mentioning "Virtoaa."

Who is this Virtoaa?

Virtoaa is the god of the Imperiks and many of the peoples the Imperiks rule. He, and I do mean He, is a warrior-god, a jealous god. He could the be the one-and-the-same Yahweh from the Old Testament for all I know.

His symbol is the Sundisk: "die Sonne."

In gaming terms, Virtoaa is firmly entrenched on the side of Law, barely tolerates neutrality, and abhors Chaos. His religion, Virotaanism, is monotheistic, which has come into conflict with polytheistic religions. In the current age, Virtoaanism has stamped out most beliefs in the "old gods" on the Bist Continent. Virtoaans have had almost 2,000 years to do this and have been very effective.

The months, weeks, and days of the year, for example, are not named after non-Virtoaan gods and goddess. They have 13 month years, each month named after a powerful angel. Beyond that, they number their days and weeks of the year. Thus, the first day of the year would be Week 1, Day 1, 1979 I.R. Including the name of the month would be optional--some say even heretical.

While almost can be lawful or can become a priest, cleric and paladins of Virtoaa are considered to be "chosen." This why they are able to cast spells and have special powers. Clerics are often called Virtoaa's shield, because of their powers and restrictions on weapons. First and foremost, clerics are to defend Virtoaa's people and spread His message. Paladins are even more blessed, for it is they who take the fight into darkness, where even angels fear to tread.

Unfortunately, since the Great Decree of 1800, those who can channel Virtoaa's power had to keep their powers secret. The Church has become far more secular in these times, more concerned about maintaining its power rather than serving the people in many places. The Inquisition investigates and hunts down supposed performers of both divine and arcane powers. Sometimes they kill the person, other times they take them away.

Many view the disintegration of the Empire as a sign of Virtoaa's wrath. Somehow they have fallen in the eyes of their god since they cannot share in the prosperity of the past. This has led to numerous rivals, the rise of apocalypse cults, and the spread of wandering preachers warning people about the Second Coming of Diminifragt, the Demon General.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Universe

Domikka exists somewhere in our own universe, perhaps in some distant galaxy.

I'm not a fan of parallel universes/realities, just as I'm not a fan of time travel. I think such concepts over-complicate things. The worlds we imagine exist in our own heads, and they can become as real as we want them to be, if only in dreams.

I say Domikka exists somewhere in the universe. Prove me wrong.

You'll just have to take my word that I've been to the summit of Mt. Orakel, where Mohrdeo recieved the covenant from Virtoaa. Believe me, there isn't much up there, at the top. Its covered in snow for most of the year.

Further down the slopes you can find the Gathering Place of Virtoaa. Its different than many of the other Gathering Places. It looks like two-wedges of concrete, about the length of a two football fields, and half as thick running parallel to each other with a large space in between.

It had to be that huge to handle the thousands of pilgrims who came there. Pilgrims would enter in from the east side, flow through the middle to recieve rest and blessing, and then go out the west side to continue up the mountain.

 But its been abandoned since the Dragon Wars. The massive windows between the slabs have long since been smashed. The area between is a field of broken masonry and snow drifts, with one mound being higher than the rest--the chancel of the Gathering Place where priests use to conduct ceremonies every hour, blessing the pilgrims who came there with golden sundisks in their hands.

If I've done my job as a writer, you've just been to those places on Mt. Orakel, if only in your mind. Who's to say they are not real?


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face" (Adventure Ideas)



In my mind, the 1980s were the Golden Age of the music video. You could compare the early music video scene to early dungeon design in D&D. Nobody really knew how make one, so any good idea just got tossed in. Why is the Eurythmics keyboardist playing next to a cow? Who cares. Why is Sting doing jumping-jacks in the middle of room full of candles? It's cool. Just go with it.

Many of these videos made an impression on my mind, such as Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face."

I was a kid when I first saw it. I didn't quite understand it. Billy Idol kept repeating "Eyes Without a Face." And I imagined two disembodied eyes floating in shadowy alcove. Freaky... yet perfect for a D&D game.

In fact, GMs can use the the video itself for ideas for adventures:



The Villain: 
--A leader of some sort of cult of dark hedonism.
--Has a tattoo of a woman on his arm--is she a dark reminder of his past? Does he seek her again? 
--Claims to perform miracles ("holy water into wine", causing sparks to erupt from his body)
--Reads "murder-books, trying to stay hip." 
--Likes to randomly use water torture.
--If his schemes are thwarted, he throws a fit on the floor.

Encounters: 
--a head floating over an open flame (is it some kind of oracle, an illusion, a vision for the PCs to interpret?)
--The "Watcher," a guard of some sort with eyes painted or tattooed on his eye-lids. He can even see invisible creatures.
--Random smoke and mirrors meant to confuse the party (are the mirrors scrying devices?)
--The Initiation Room. Initiates must pass their hands over a font of flame without getting burned. 
--In the main chamber, the characters find the villain standing in the center of a flaming hexagon, while his acolytes look on. 
--If any of the characters try to escape through a certain barred window, they trigger a flame trap.


The title of the song is a reference to the movie Eyes Without a Face, made way back in 1960.  It's
about a woman who's father is trying to restore her face after an accident. He kidnaps other young women and tries to transfer their faces onto his daughter's.



It's classic horro movie, one that I should probably watch at some point, but haven't.

Finally, if you like the idea of things without faces, you should check out Mini-Manor "The Faces Without Screams", by Tim Shorts, over at Gothridge Manor.

I won't spoil the fun, but I'll say its a grisly little adventure compatible with Swords & Wizardry.

Some characters might not be able to "face" the challenge. (har har)



T is for Titans of the Mountains and Dragons of the Air





The lands beyond paradise were not empty, for Dragons and Titans lived in multitudes on the earth in those days, begotten from the union between Asmodeus and Tiamat. These creatures warred with each other for dominance once Virtoaa sundered Tiamat in twain and banished Asmodeus to the underworld. Dragons are the children of fire, earth, and air--the sons and daughters of Tiamat; Titans are the children of fire, earth, and water. They are the predecessors of the degenerate forms of these creatures which still dwell in the wild places of the world.

Adam, Eve, and Lilith traveled to the Valley of Lud in the mountains. There Adam slew the sleeping titan Humbaba, son of Asmodeus, by felling the cedar trees upon him. He built a house out of Humbaba's bones and flesh, and began to build a city from the cedar trees. 

One day, the dragon Hydra, daughter of Tiamat, came seeking Humbaba, so that she might slay him. Instead she found Adam, Eve, and Lilith dwelling inside Humbaba's remains. 10 She became enraged and burned the valley, city, and house down. 11 Adam, Eve, and Lilith fled into the wilderness, leaving the Valley of Lud to remain barren to this day.

--The Book of Origins (4:1-11), from The Word of Virtoaa, First Testament

The descendants of these first dragons and titans still trouble mankind, even though they are nowhere near as powerful. Titans supposedly once stood 100 feet tall, while dragons grew to a 100 feet long. Titans degenerated into mere giants, the least of these are the ogres and trolls of the world. Dragons are but a fraction of their former size and have spawned many chimeric creatures.

Dragons of the Air and Giants of the Mountains are but the first two of the four main races of monstrosities that beset mankind. The other two are Goblins of the Woods and Demons of the Earth.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for "Sonne"

36"Mohrdeo continued to speak to those gathered around his death bed: 37'From hence forth, the symbol of Virtoaa shall be the Sun, as a reminder of our exodus eastward toward the dawn, toward the Promised Lands Virtoaa set aside for us, the Imperiks, his chosen people. 38 The Sun shall be the curse and envy of Goblins of the Woods, Demons of the Earth, and the destroyer of the servants of the Demon Prince of Undead. 39 Even Dragons of the Air and Titans of the Mountains shall hesitate before its power.' 

40 "'Be the Light of the World, for it is your inheritance. 41 It is no graven image to have the symbol of the Sun upon your chest. 42 In this present darkness, be the Light.'

43"And then Mohrdeo sighed, and passed on into Heaven. His work on this world was done."

--The Book of Exodus, 42:36-43, The Word of Virtoaa, Second Testament








Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Upcoming New Blog about Writing and Ruminations, and Other News.


Does it annoy you when somebody at the gaming table starts talking about about religion and politics, thus distracting you from the game?

d20 Dark Ages is supposed to be, more or less, about gaming and my thoughts on gaming. My personal rule is that I don't talk about religion and politics at the gaming table, nor should I here on this blog. Some of my posts for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge, I feel, crossed that line. Gaming is supposed to be a method of escapism, entertainment, not getting people worked up over topics they have little or no control over.

Yet I'm also a writer, and writers ruminate, and sometimes I ruminate on religion and politics. Thus I'm starting up a new blog, officially debuting on May 1:

The Word of Stelios: One Writer's Writings and Ruminations, One Word at a Time

This has been in the works for awhile. I figured I needed another blog to keep my gaming and my writing career separate, since I started looking at other author's blogs. Most of these look so cheery and wholesome in comparison to d20 Dark Ages. While I may not go with the "cheery and wholesome" look, I do understand that my future audiences might not want to come to a blog about gaming.

Also, to celebrate, I'll be posting my short story, "Murder on the Hot Flats" -- for free!

So where does this leave d20 Dark Ages?

I'll still be updating this blog regularly. In fact, I can't wait for the A to Z challenge to be over so I can go back to posting:

--Reviews
--Retrospectives
--Mini Mondays
--Growing up in the d20 Dark Ages
--New Monsters taken from cartoons and television
--The occasional "Relic from the Dark Ages"

--And other miscellaneous commentary, though I promise to be less snarky from here on out. Though I have to admit, those rants on Warhammer, the Forgotten Realms, and why I don't LARP were cathartic. It felt good to get those annoyances off of my chest. Still, who else really cares?

More importantly, I'll no longer argue the notion that we're in some kind of "Dark Age" of gaming. I still believe we are, but I won't pour through old Dragon Magazine articles to prove it. Nor will I take current publications, and say, "See! See! This proves my thesis!", like I did with Gygax Magazine.  That post remains #1 in terms of page views, but I think for the wrong reasons. People probably came expecting a review, but they got that. How embarrassing.

Please see my actual review, Gygax Magazine (Redux).

So what if we're in a "Dark Age" of gaming? I mean, who really cares? 

I'm still gaming about every week. Lots other people are, too. Life goes on.

Well, the folks running the various gaming companies out there probably do, if sales are down. Yet if WotC can't unify gamers under the banner of 5e, like I think they're trying to do, so what?

Why should I let that affect what happens at my gaming table? Or in the stories and blog posts I write?

My two passions in life are writing and gaming.

Anything else is a distraction.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Rammstein.


I've written and re-written this entry several times now. And I honestly don't exactly know where to begin or end. The other drafts were long, but I had intended on keeping this entry short. So I'll just start with the basics of what I know: 

I love Rammstein. 

They are my favorite band of all time. They've had a lot of influence over me. Because of listening to their music I went on to study German history, culture, and language--beyond the usual World War II material you get on American TV or in the average history class. 

Listening to their music also helped me get through some dark times in my life. It helped keep my anger kindled, giving me the energy to move on. 

 When I first heard "Du Hast" back in 1997, I felt a kind of awakening and paradigm shift. The radio was actually playing a German band singing in German. No translations. And they sounded great. They sounded like they didn't give a shit that you thought they were German--to hell with your World War II perceptions, to hell with Col. Clink and Sprockets. Germany is reunited and it feels sehr gut!

Oh, and "Du Hast" wasn't even their best song or video. They had other tricks up their sleeve. How dare they make a music video from parts of Olympia. by Leni Riefenstahl...


I just hope somebody out there has watched "Stripped" without knowing where the footage came from. Even it you understand, it's still a beautiful video.

I remember some of the controversy when the debuted here in United States. Not every one was ready for Germans playing metal and breathing fire. It probably also didn't help that Saving Private Ryan came out at around the same time. Then, of course, there was Columbine. Marilyn Manson got most of the blame for that, but Rammstein got caught up in it, too. 

Authorities weren't exactly ready for Rammstein's performance of "Buck Dich", either. 

It was soon apparent, if you listened or followed up on their story, that they weren't Nazis, nor gay, nor did they want their music to contribute to the Columbine shootings.

Still, the fear was there. I can't blame them for avoiding the United States for ten years, after 9/11. The "Ich Will" video debuted on 9/10/2011 (thus making the finer points of the video lost on many American listeners). I really don't know what would have happened to them if they returned. We were all so afraid and yet proud of ourselves as Americans,  and it was springtime for George W. Bush and the Repubican Party.

Back in graduate school, one of my professors said: "To have an inking of what it was like in Nazi Germany, think of the period following 9/11. Think of how unified the country was the wake of the terrorist attacks.  The country was in a state of emergency. Now imagine that emergency going on indefinitely."

And to think Nazi Germany didn't have the 24-hour news cycle to forever keep its populous informed and afraid. 

Again, back to the fear. 

In Domikka, the Imperik race is afraid of a lot of things: The Hazahdians, Goblins of the Woods, Demons of the Earth, Dragons of the Air, Titans of the Mountains, heresy, apostasy, "pagan" and "demonic" religions, and treachery from without and within. I didn't have to go too far for these ideas. 

If you're an athiest, agnostic, of a different religion besides Christianity, or not White with a capital "W", life can be hard here in the United States. Certain doors can, and will remain closed. Things have, I believe, gotten better. But there's still a long way to go. 

I'm not sure where to go from here. Boston was shut down during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon Bombers. The police resembled the police out of Rammstein's "Ich Will." Yes, the bombing was a tragedy. And yet there have been more traffic fatalities in the State of Georgia than there have been days in 2013. I'm not sure to what think about that, except...

I believe we are fearing the wrong things, if we need be afraid of anything. 

In the country, I swear, the Right fears the totalitarianism of the Left, and vice versa. But all of the rhetoric is just a smoke screen, intentional or not, for the real problems that both this country and world face. 

There's so much more to say. But I meant to be brief. 

So let me reiterate: I love Rammstein and their music, and the paths that their music has taken me down.  Some of these paths you can find for yourself, below. 

Further reading and film: 
The Culture of Make Believe, by Derrick Jensen
Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanies, by Jeffrey Herf
Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life, by Detlev J.K. Peukert
1984, by George Orwell

Good (2008), directed by Vicente Amorim

"Anakonda im Netz: a Rammstein Documentary," Volkerball (2007, U.S.), by Rammstein



Friday, April 19, 2013

God and Gaming--Are They Compatible? Part 2

Well, there it is, another swipe at Dungeons & Dragons by Pat Robertson...




Roberston says I'm "literally" destroying my life or the lives others by being involved with anything involving magic, even make-believe magic. Dungeons & Dragons included.

I can only shake my head, because what's the use arguing?

Robertson has made a pile of money promoting his brand of protestant fundamentalism and will continue doing so until he dies. In the meantime, the rest of us have to put up with people influenced by his words. And people are under his influence. There wouldn't be a 700 Club otherwise.

I got the video itself from Right Wing Watch. Not that read that website much, I don't. Because agencies like that are more about attacking and showing people at their worst, rather than the whole story. I'd have liked to have seen what happens before and after Robertson's swipe at D&D.

But what we really get is no better than Fox News covering only Obama's Speech for only 17 Seconds. (Well, not even that--literally).

So let me put this another way. I think God and gaming are compatible. Robertson doesn't. Okay, quick: Who's wrong? Who's the heretic or apostate?

Perhaps I am. Maybe its a sign from God that, because I play RPGs, I'm not rich. I don't have the "stewardship" over wealth like the Protestant Work Ethic teaches. But I have found my "calling" as a writer and historian who just so happens to also play D&D. 

For that matter, I've always wondered what folks like Robertson think when they read the story about Jesus telling a rich young man to sell his possessions and give to the poor. The rich man goes away sad. And then Jesus tops it off with: "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:14)

Yikes!

Oh yes, and on top of this, the New Testament makes numerous references of Jesus's comeback. The Book of Revelation is the capstone to all of this. If you take this literally, and people do and have done, including Robertson (who predicted the world would end in 1982, and later 1987), then you're going to be sitting around, waiting for the world to end, often subject to the whims of a charismatic leader.

I'll just go ahead and say: More people have been harmed by taking the Bible literally in the last 40 years, than from people taking D&D books literally. Yeah, I know. Its not a fair assessment, the Bible has been around far, far longer--and in many, many, more "editions" than D&D.

And yet in the last 40 years, since Gygax first published D&D...

...I have never heard of a D&D player selling all of his possessions to play D&D.

...I have never heard of a charismatic Dungeon Master telling his players to drink the poisoned Kool-Aid.

...I have never heard of a bunch of gamers forming a commune, building a compound, stockpiling weapons, and waiting for the world to end, but they're plans get foiled when the authorities come to raid the place, so they burn the place down--killing even the women and children inside.

...Nor have I heard of players reading a bunch of RPG books, and then interpretting every natural and man-made disaster, or Obama becoming President, as "a sign of the times." Nor, as far as I know, does Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, or the multitudes of other RPG companies out there, mass market books, movies, and other media promoting Millennial beliefs.

I have, however, seen "edition wars." But most of the vitriol spewed comes nowhere close to the anger I've seen when certain people argue over the meaning of scripture. Has anybody stated, "You're going to HELL because you play X edition!" and meant it?

So with that said: which is more dangerous, the Bible (in whatever edition) or say, the Player's Handbook (again, in whatever edition)?

My apologies. It's a trick question. Books aren't inherently dangerous. People are. As I've said, in my last post about God and Gaming, we are all capable of great weal and woe.

It's not the Bible or the Player's Handbook, but what you do after you've read them.

Literally.


From zazzle.com


Q is for the Quantum Mechanics of Time Travel (NOT!)



Yes, we all like The Terminator and the Back to the Future movies. Star Trek IV was a fun little jaunt into 1980s Earth, and who can forget the zany adventures of Dr. Who? And, of course, we loved it when Charlton Heston growled:


And who could forget Bruce Campbell getting hurled back in time in Army of Darkness? 

Yet maybe I'm just a spoil sport, but I'm not a big fan of time travel. Maybe it was all those episodes of Star Trek: TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager where they multiplied some tachyon particles by the space-time continuum to solve their problems. "Hey look! It's Admiral Janeway from the future to help Voyager fight the Borg and finally get home--yay!"

Gimmie a break.

Or it could have been in the Dragonlance "Legends Trilogy," that soured my taste for time travel, where the wizard Raistlin goes back in time to kill Fistandantilus to free himself from the Fistandantilus's possessing spirit. But if Fistandantilus is dead does that mean his spirit will still forward in time anyway and possess Raistlin? But if Raistlin stops Fistandantilus from doing that, the Raistlin wouldn't become powerful enough to go back in time to kill Fistandantilus.

Huh? Um yeah... here's the obligatory head explosion:


So, if you are reading this, then take note: this is my covenant to the readers of my fiction and the players around my gaming table--

I will never use time travel as a plot device.

Time travel is often a cop-out, a cheap deus ex machina reserved for writers of comedy. Not like there's anything wrong with comedy--I just don't write much comedy. Part of the horror of going through life is that you can't relive the past, for better for worse. Furthermore, the past probably wasn't as great as you'd think it'd be. Yeah, I'm a medievalist, but I wouldn't want to live in the 12th Century. I like manufactured goods and decent plumbing.

Even more so, from a creative writing standpoint, time travel overly complicates things. You almost always have to explain why time travel works and why things in the present don't get altered by actions in the past (or why things don't spin of into a parallel universe). The Raistlin/Fistandantilus scenario is a perfect example of this. Also, what happens when the present catches up to "The Future." Originally, in Star Trek, the Eugenics Wars have come and gone. And how many times has "Judgement Day" been pushed back in the Terminator franchise.

It's just too much to deal with--writing is hard enough as it is.

So, no time travel for Domikka or any other of my stories or adventures.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Reflections on Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day



By all accounts it looks like Swords & Wizardry Appreciation was a rousing success.

Erik Tenkar still lives after coordinating the 138+ blogs that participated in the event. According to posts on the G+ Swords & Wizardry Discussion Group, sales (not surprisingly) were way up. A lot of people were taking part in the 25% sale--myself included. I bought both the pdf and hardcopies of Swords & Wizardry Complete and Grimmsgate. So I'm looking forward to those to come in the mail.


The magazine Knockspell might comeback because of all the support showed yesterday, despite earlier this month Matt Finch being hesitant to make a decision. Bloggers would have to drive the magazine forward.


And because of Tenkar's hard work, there's now a huge blogroll of participants in S&W Appreciation Day over at 2000 Coppers. There's a lot of cool material out there that can be used to fuel Knockspell. I mentioned barely a handful of these in my post yesterday "Blog Overload (aka so much cool stuff)."

So, I think we might be seeing a renaissance within the Old School Renaissance, though its a bit early to tell. We'll have to see how things turn out. (The results from all of yesterday's giveaways still have to be announced after all.)

But I know where I'm going from here.

I'm resurrecting my Expeditions in the Northlands Campaign, which pretty much ended with a TPK last January. I'll be using, of course, Swords & Wizardy with the character "funnelling system" from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. You can read how that works here, if you haven't already.

Here's Schwarzer Engel's "Konigin der Nacht" (Queen of the Night) to celebrate. Normally I'd use some Rammstein, but they've been reserved for some upcoming posts and I don't want to sound repetitive...




...Besides, like my campaign, the guy in the video comes back from dead. 




P is for Places of Gathering, Punishing, and Burning



In Virtoaan-Imperik culture, each community is supposed to have three "pillars:" a Gathering Place, a Punishing Place, and a Burning Place. Each represents the trinity of integrity that ensures both the spiritual and physical well-being of the community's citizens.

The Gathering Place is a place of worship and can function as a community center. Gathering Places are considered holy, but to claim that Virtoaa's spirit dwells within would be borderline heresy. Only in the Temple of Virtoaa in Del Reloes does Virtoaa's incorporeal form reside, along with the original Obelisk of Laws brought down from Mount Orakel. Rather, the priests of the community channel Virtoaa's power so that the Gathering Place maybe blessed.

Gathering Places come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are as large and ornate as our own real world cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues. A Gathering Place is maintained by the priesthood--even if one only priest is present.

Many Gathering Places face East toward the rising sun, others face toward the Temple of Virtoaa in Del Reloes, depending on interpretation of scripture. This has caused much controversy and is something that the Church of Virtoaa has never quite resolved. Even building perfectly round Gathering Places with multiple entrances, thus having no "front, is still offensive to some.

The priest is often seen as the center of a community, rivaling even the power of local nobility, because he (and to a lesser extent "she") often has the most interaction with the locals.

The Punishing Place is just that, a place to judge and punish criminals. Laws are very much "eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth." Punishments often include public whipping and beatings, but are swift. Thieves get a hand chopped off for each offense. Again, the priesthood is often involved, with nobles lending their weight if they must. Yet even nobles must follow Mohrdeic Law (the law written down by Mohrdeo while on Mount Orakel).

For the most heinous crimes those deemed guilty are often beaten in the Punishing Place and killed. Rapists for example, in accordance to Mordeic Law, have their eyes gouged out because they can't appreciate the beauty of a woman. They are left to wander the community for three days, begging. If they haven't left by that time, then they are taken to...

The Burning Place. This is a garbage dump located on the fringes of the town (outside the walls if possible), where garbage and the worst criminals are burned. Traitors, witches, some heretics, and rapists are sent there to be burned alive as the final punishment.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

DCC RPG's Funneling System for Swords & Wizardry


Yes, yet another post on Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.

In my earlier post on Why Swords & Wizardry is the #1 RPG, I mentioned that used Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG's "Funneling system" with Swords & Wizardry. Why? Because its frakking cool and it shows how Swords & Wizardry can accomodate nearly any add-on from other similar rules systems. 

If you're not familiar with the "funneling system," here's the gist of how it works, as well as I how I used with Swords & Wizardry.

Each player rolls up 3 zero-level characters. These characters have no classes, but their races, professions, and equipment are determined randomly on Tables 1-3 and 3-4 in the DCC RPG rulebook.

The characters start with:

--1d4 hit points, modified by Constitution (in DCC its called Stamina)
--5d12 Copper Pieces
--Base Saving Throw of 18 (Using S&W), for all of their saves.
--+0 to all attack rolls
--Proficiency in whatever weapon they start with. However, say if player wants his character to become a  wizard, he shouldn't being going around wielding swords and wearing armor.
--Negative 100 XP. That is, -100 XP. (In DCC you start with 0 XP). Once a 0-level character survives his first adventure, he should be promoted to 1st level with exactly 0 XP, regardless if actual total falls short. The player then chooses his class (if human). Elves, halflings, and dwarves simply become 1st level elves, halfings, and dwarves.

(I also use Sanity from Call of Cthulu, but that's the subject of another post.)

Of course, the key is surviving. The funneling system does "funnel" out unworthy characters pretty quick. You'll start off with three characters, but chances are two will die in the first adventure.

Yet one thing I love about this method is that it forces the players to think, problem solve, rather than relying on the skills and powers of their characters. It's amazing watching giant rats be an actual threat. A gang of average goblins can cause a TPK if the PCs don't resort to ambushs and other tactics rather than just wading in to combat.

The result is that the average 1st Level character in S&W is a few hit points tougher, making 1st level not as lethal. The survivors also come with backgrounds, backgrounds the players can appreciate:

"I remember the days when I was just an orphan with a rag doll, but now I can harness the power of magic!"

That's awesome.

And that's DCC RPG's funneling system combined with Swords & Wizardry

Blog Overload (aka--so much cool stuff)

There are days when I feel overwhelmed with trying to keep up with all the cool gaming stuff that's going on in the blogosphere. Today is one of those days. I'll tackle things one at a time.

First, of course, its Swords & Wizardy Appreciation Day. I've already made my blog post about it, but its worth reiterating. Erik Tenkar has setup a command post over at 2000 coppers featuring a blogroll of all the participants. He took the day off from work to keep track of all of the blog updates.

Now, to my readers who've never played Dungeons & Dragon or any other roleplaying game before: Swords & Wizardry is an update to the original D&D rules that came out in the 1970s. If you want get idea of what roleplaying is all about, taking a look at Swords & Wizardry, in my mind, is one of the best ways to find out. Besides, you can download the basic rules pdf at the website below for free!

http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/?page_id=18

(Oh yes, and if you're from the A to Z blog challenge, I've already done my "O" entry for today)

All right, let's get to the cool stuff (S&W related and otherwise):

1. Gothridge Manor, by Tim Shorts, has been selected as one of the four blogs to give away the S&W Complete Rules. Post a comment, you might win the prize! (I don't know as of yet the other three blogs).  Shorts has also posted a free adventure, "Screams without Faces."

2. Rob Griffin over at Blood & Battle has posted rules for playing humanoids for S&W. It's a draft, but its worth checking out. And its free.

3. Need a short adventure for an evening? Check out the free adventure "Taglar's Tomb" over at Heretic Works, a mini-adventure for Swords & Wizardry. You can drop it into almost any campaign without much trouble. It features tables of unique monsters and treasure, so you can stock the dungeon yourself.

4. For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, Underworld Kingdom is posting a list of spells and items for Terminal Space, a sci-fi RPG compatible with any old school system. Today's item is an Orb of Torment.

5. Harness & Array, a Hundred Years' War Blog, has completed some breathtaking figures and terrain for the Battle of Cravant. As a HYW enthusiast, I'm excited I've been following this project for sometime, but any gamer can appreciate the work and a beauty of well-painted figures and landscapes. Take a look at these Scots.

6. Speaking of painting miniatures, here's a shout out to Warren Fairbanks at 52 Miniatures in 52 Weeks. He's been steadily making progress on the 200 miniatures he got from the Reaper Bones Kickstarter. This week he finished an Ogre Chieftain, which looks great.

We're both trying to complete at 52 miniatures in a year. I'm afraid to say that I'm a little behind. My last batch was three mouslings for my girlfriend for Valentine's Day.

8. Need a new class for your gothic horror game? Try the Spiritualist over at Jack Shear's Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque. It's for Labyrinth Lord, but can easily be converted to any old school RPG.

9. Like Nephilim? Then check out Halls of the Nephilim where Justin Isaac explains his fascination wtih the idea of angels mating with mortal humans, producing Nephilim--a race of giants. It sounds like we've both been enchanted by this idea.

Isaac's blog is mostly about World of Darkness games, but there's plenty of ideas you can take to other systems.

10. Finally, Stuffer Shack is asking you to vote for your favorite RPG blog. The winner gets the Site of the Year (SOTY) award.

With all the cool RPG blogs that are out there, I'd be hard pressed to make cast a vote.

Heck, I found it difficult to make this top-ten list for today.


Why Swords & Wizardry is the #1 RPG


It was a toss up between Swords & Wizardry and Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG in my mind. And I love both, and I wish could play more of each. Both harken back to "Old School" game design. DCC RPG is almost like Joseph Goodman's doctoral dissertation--he read the equivalent of a field's list of sword and sorcery fiction. I've even used the "funnelling" system in my Swords & Wizardry games.
DCC RPG, however, is meant for more advanced players.

With that said: I think there should be a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Appreciation Day. 

So what makes Swords & Wizardry #1 in my mind?

1. That spark. Remember that spark when you first played D&D, or any other RPG? It was when you realized that this game was unlike any other. Your character can attempt to do just about anything. I saw that spark in a newbie's eye not too long ago at the gaming table.

His character sheet was a 3"x5" index card.

It had been awhile since I'd seen that spark. With D&D 3.5e I'd more or less see newbies eyes glaze over from rules bombardment.

2. The simplicity of the "guidelines." I would have typed "rules," but the S&W isn't about learning a
bunch of rules. You don't have to master the rules to play.

People are more busy now than ever, it seems. Nobody wants to sit down and learn a bunch of rules. They want to play and learn the rules as they go or learn them later. You can have newbie playing within 15 minutes because character creation is so short.

3. Swords & Wizardry is a template for creativity. It goes back to that spark, this time as a GM. Remember when you first wanted to create your own dungeon and run your own adventures? Yeah... all of the possibilities were open to you.

I found that spark again with Swords & Wizardry, because it harkens back to the days when stating out NPCs and monsters weren't such a chore.



Finally, I assure that my opinion has not been swayed by the fact that I, along with many other bloggers, are recieving 25% off our S&W purchases today, because we apprecitate S&W that much. 

Here's how you can be appreciating, too:

To get both books and pdfs at 25% enter in SWApprDay at: 

http://www.talesofthefroggod.com/products.html

To get just the pdfs, enter in SWAD252013 at: 

http://shop.d20pfsrd.com/collections/swords-wizardry-appreciation-day

And here's Ode to Joy by Ludwig Van B. to celebrate this momentus occasion.






O is for orkus, Orkus, ORKUS!


11 "And so Azmartin led his men into the Witch of Emeron's lair. 12 There they fought the spirits of the dead which were in both corporeal and incorporeal forms. 13 They set upon Azmartin and his men. 14 Some where killed and came back to attack their fellows. 15 Azmartin and his men beseeched Virtoaa's aid. 16 Virtoaa's aid, and defeated them with His divine light of the sun. 17 Still, his men where shaken. What where these new creatures? They were not Demons of the Earth, nor Hob-Gobel. 

18 "God sent an angel who appeared like a man clothed in lightning. 18 He told them: 'One of my fallen brothers, Orkus, has stolen one of the keys from Hell. He has escaped and commands the spirits of the deceased and can prohibit them from entering Hell. They are not longer dead, but undead.'

19 "Azmartin marveled at this revelation, and shuddered, for Demon Prince of Undead would forever plague mankind with the fear of the undead."

The Book of Origins 38:11-19, The Word of Virtoaa--The First Testament

That's right, I spell Orkus with a "k!"

Orkus is called the "Prince of Undead" for a reason: he created and enabled the creation of undead in Domikka. The wand of his is one of the Keys to the Gates of Hell. With it, he can determine which souls get in and others who are doomed forever in the Shadow Realm to serve him.

Otherwise, he very much like the Orcus you'd read about for years: fat, bloated, goat-headed, and evil.





And here's Tim Brannan's version of Orcus.




Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for No Hope But What You Make...

By Boris Vallejo

"I shall watch over you in all things. Pray to me, but plant crops. I shall listen to your prayers, but
sharpen your spearheads. Beware of false hopes, for such things cause complacency and slothfulness.

--Virtoaa speaking to Mohrdeo on Mount Orakel, The Book of Exodus 27: 9-11, The Word of Virtoaa--Second Testament

As a general rule, the Imperiks do not trust in hope. They'll pray to Virtoaa, they'll have wishes and desires just like everybody else, but they won't sit around and hope for the better.They see their divine-bloodedness the to be very reason to be the miracle to the myriad of problems in the world.

They would mock the traditional interpretation of the story of Pandora's Box/Jar. "What they hell are you looking at, Pandora?" They'd ask. "Do you really think, that after releasing all of those evils in the world from that damn box, that staring at that little glimmer of hope will make things better?"

Get to work.


Monday, April 15, 2013

M is of Molech and the Dawn of Civilization

"I will teach you how to be civilized!"
Illustration by Berni Wrightson
from Stephen King's The Stand

"Kane, the Son of Adam and Lilith, founded Ur-Del, the First City in the land of Nod. There he gathered the disparate tribes of men who grew tired of always fleeing the Titans of the Mountains and Dragons of the Air. And yet these monstrosities remained troublesome, for Kane and his kind had abandoned God's righteousness. The blood of Abel's murder still stained his hands. And thus, Kane called out to Molech, and bargained with the demon. Molech then taught the citizens of Ur-Del how to be civilized, and make the weapons of war to subdue the Titans of the Mountains, Dragons of the Air, and even other nations of men.

The people of Ur-Del multiplied in number. In return, Molech demanded the sacrifice of a hundred children to be cast into the flames of the furnaces and smithies beneath his altars every year."

The Book of Origins 13:1-5, The Word of Virtoaa--First Testament

The vision of Molech, from the movie
Metropolis

Molech, by Wayne Douglas Barlowe




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