Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Gaming Year in Review

It's been a good year for gaming here at Superhero Necromancer HQ. For my own curiosity as much as anything else, I thought I'd take a look back at what we've been playing. Here's a list of RPGs that we played during 2010, in rough chronological order. I'm probably missing something, but this covers the main bases.

Games of 2010
  • Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game: We played this twice this year, once near the beginning of the year and once just last week. Both sessions have been a blast. Street Fighter is an effortlessly fun game for me. I know the rules, I know the world, and I have plenty of ideas for modern pulp and martial arts adventure. It plays fast and always has a good balance between action, adventure, and banter. This time around, Street Fighter also served for a Christmas adventure involving fist fights with the Bavarian Illuminati in an Alpine castle ski resort with the krampus running amok on the slopes.
  • Dungeons and Dragons (Rules Cyclopedia): The Rainy City campaign is primarily built on a D&D Rules Cyclopedia chassis, with D&D pastiche elements. One of the players is running an OD&D alchemist from Dragon Magazine, and I use the 2nd edition AD&D spell and magic item compendiums as well as any monster books from any classic edition of D&D that are handy. It's also an easy pick up game for me as I have the city handy for play when needed. It doesn't hurt that it's a chance to use my favorite version of D&D, the BX/BECM/RC line.
  • Apocalypse World: I enjoyed this each time we played it. I ran it once and played it twice, and I'd be happy to play it again. I regret not having done any linked sessions -- each play session was more of a independent one shot, and my understanding is that the game works best with campaign play.
  • Dungeons and Dragons (4E): Played a one shot of this at a con. I had a good time playing a classic wizard (i.e., one with more ego than ability).
  • Dungeons and Dragons (Pathfinder): This is our default system for The Royal Subterranean Diplomatic Corps. I've run it for most of the sessions but also played in one. I especially like 3.x D&D from the player's side of the screen. RSDC tends to be a very talky game, with relatively little in the way of action and fighting, so we're probably not leveraging most of the 3.x game system. But I'd be hard pressed to imagine some of the PCs having been conceived had a different game system been the basis.
  • The Fantasy Trip: I just love this game. We used it for a campaign last year, but this year I think we only played it once as an RPG, using it for a one-shot Rainy City session at Halloween. It's a good fit for the rainy city, as it comes pre-packaged with alchemy and gargoyles and skill checks for burglary and the like.
  • Call of Cthulhu: CoC made a cameo appearance in one of our Royal Subterranean Diplomatic Corps games, when a group of diplomats entered the Desert of Cosmic Horrors. We did an on the spot conversion of the characters to CoC terms and used a loose approximation of the system for action resolution and sanity checks in the desert and pyramids of cosmic horrors. The players were, I think, rightly relieved when they returned to their D&D stats.
  • Gamma World (D&D 4E-based edition): This game seems to have almost entirely taken over our gaming since its release. It's easy to see why. It's sleek, random fun, and it accommodates all the weirdness you throw at it. Here are some examples from our recent play of the game: a Chernobyl blasted plant super soldier; a pyrokinetic samurai named Markus (but if you like you can call him "sensei"); a spirit of the earth emerged from a cave to set things right (and destroy abominations); ninjas made of nightmares serving a baboon ninja lord with a nightmare sword; vampires of the frozen north with an undead army, a frankenstein's monster mad scientist, a werewolf in the basement, and a crashed flying saucer out on the snow; a robot shark death machine serving fish men in a nautilus submarine; the robot collective's "vandals" poisoning a river to kill mutants; a fat crocodile crying on his jet ski because it won't start; getting trapped in the fever dreams of a super-psychic little green man from outer space still stuck in stasis; competing in the "pain games" (think Running Man); and of course, The Curse of the Kill Bot...
And 2011 promises more of the same thrills, plus! Rolemaster! and Heavy Gear! and more.

So cheers to a great 2010 and great expectations for the coming year!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blogging by whim

RPG blogging is a thing of whim and fancy for me, and lately my whims have returned to Street Fighter. I have a new RPG-related Street Fighter post up at the other blog, which I'll shameless promote here just one more time: Street Fighter martial arts, some explorations.

From here on out, I'll stick to keeping most of the street fighter stuff over there and D&D-cetera and general roleplaying stuff over here, so don't worry about this blog turning into a series of "look over there" type posts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Desert of Cosmic Horror

Strange things happen in the desert.

Yes, somehow, given the choice of spending their next diplomatic assignment at either The Spider Swamp, Crater Town, or The Desert of Cosmic Horror, our envoys decided that cosmic horrors would probably be more amenable to diplomacy than spiders or alien puddings.

I suppose if you're going to be negotiating with the unknowable in any case, it is reasonable to go big or go home.

Upon entering the desert, we quickly converted to the characters to a loose version of Call of Cthulhu. At first, I wasn't sure it was working, but sure enough, as time in the desert wore on, even the simplest kinds of banal monstrosities D&D adventurers otherwise take for granted (corpses, bloody altars, strange runes) took on new meanings. And sanity scores slowly dwindled.

Only when the diplomats sailed into the underworld did their dependable D&D stats return. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so relieved to enter the kingdom of the dead.

In the end, the diplomats dealt with the usual mix of diplomatic challenges.

  • strange stars above the desert, uncountable, unrecognizable, wrong
  • silent jackals, always watching from the next dune
  • an archaologist from another world, gone quite mad and making terrible sacrifices upon the altar hidden in his tent
  • the archaeologist's shadowy double (demon? ghul? doppelganger?)
  • runes of the crawling chaos, messenger of the outer gods
  • a trap-filled pyramid, of course
  • mummified guardians inviting the diplomats onto a funerary barge
  • the black river to the underworld
  • the shade of the great kingdom in the underworld, safe these long eons from the crawling chaos
  • the boy king and god of the great kingdom, who was happy to negotiate, for all the good a dead king's alliance will do them in the face of cosmic horrors above

To their credit, the diplomats were also smart enough to politely refuse the pharoah's kind offer of a meal at his table.

Ah, the life of a diplomat!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Recently, on the Superhero Necromancer Channel

Here are some things we've been up to, of late.

In The Rainy City, a rather grim bunch stole into a necromancer's tower by night. Their intentions were not good.

This PC quote from the start of the session rather set the tone:

"I like dead people. They have things. Things that don't belong to nobody."

In The Royal Subterranean Diplomatic Corps, a recent diplomatic mission to Marrow Deep, led by a discredited (?) ranger, the layabout, underachieving 18th son of a nobleman, and the Justin Bieber of necromancers ended in... something resembling a treaty with a very bad dead thing, or demon perhaps. The distinction is probably academic. Also, a good hound was lost. The dead rose. Villagers slandered the king. And a god was threatened in a most unseemly manner.

In Gamma Terra, a ragtag crew of mutant boat people (why is it always boat people with this game?) encountered first hand the Curse of the Kill Bot somewhere along the waterways of rural Gamma Michigan. While they have stopped it, for now, before it could eat more people, it has already uploaded its consciousness to the scattered remains of the global satellite network. The kill bot is dead, but its curse lives on...

And finally, elsewhere, I updated my other blog that is never updated, with brand new Street Fighter content.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I am the Justin Bieber of Necromancers

There are many insights to be gained from playing RPGs. Truths about ourselves and our friends. New understandings of the world around us. Striking experiences of the power of stories in our lives.

And then there are the other truths, less profound perhaps, but no less sublime.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fifteen Games

These are the first fifteen that came to me, in the order they popped into my head.

  1. Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game
  2. Dungeons & Dragons
  3. Kult
  4. Underground
  5. Marvel Super Heroes
  6. Heavy Gear
  7. Vampire: The Masquerade
  8. Shadowrun
  9. Castle Falkenstein
  10. Dark Conspiracy
  11. Cyberpunk 2020
  12. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
  13. Call of Cthulhu
  14. The Fantasy Trip
  15. Ars Magica

I was thinking "RPG only" at the time. If I'd been including other games, the Street Fighter video games would have bumped something off the chart, and Legend of Zelda and Mario games would probably have been in there too. Given the unpredictability of stream of consciousness associative thinking, I don't know what would have been bumped in particular. Hat tip.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Royal Subterranean Diplomatic Corps

In addition to a recent Rainy City game, which I'll try to post about eventually, we've lately been playing The Royal Subterranean Diplomatic Corps, inspired by a post by "Josh Roby" at Story Games nearly four years ago. I'll give you his pitch first. Then I'll follow up with some notes from our game.
For thousands of years, the Kingdom has beaten back the monsters lurking in its darkest corners, raided the abandoned dungeons where they dwelled, and slaying the beasts wherever they were found.

With the ascension of Good King George, however, we have seen the dawn of a new day. Guided by his new bride, the drow queen Sabine, the King has outlawed violence against monstrous citizens of the kingdom and established an order of diplomats to visit the dungeons and collapsed castles where they dwell in order to make amends.

It is George's unique wisdom to understand that the so-called "monsters" really are people, too, driven into the inaccessible reaches of the kingdom by fear and ignorance. Millenia of war have only served to oppress these poor souls, denying them the opportunity to own and till fields and raise their spawn in as much comfort as they could. The only permanent solution to the situation was not annihilation and genocide, but coming together in the spirit of peace and understanding.

The job of George's Diplomats is not easy. Generations of mistrust have turned the hearts of the monsters cold and hard, and what few stop to listen believe that a human king would extend an olive branch to their kind. The situation is made even more difficult by the actions of a few diehard "adventurers" who refuse to let go of the ways of the past. But still, no matter the history of violence or the continuing remnants of hatred, the diplomatic corps stands ready to create tomorrow by building bridges of hope, understanding, and mutual respect.
We're three sessions into a Royal Subterranean Diplomatic Corps mini-campaign here at Superhero Necromancer HQ, and so far it's lived up to its promise. Intrepid diplomats have been offered a number of possible sites to visit on diplomatic missions, and two negotiations have been completed. Successfully? (By some measures!)

The following diplomatic assignments have been completed so far:

  • Winterpeak, home of the Winter Witch, as well as the nearby Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. Diplomats have successfully made contact with the Winter Witch, though unfortunately they also awoke her father, a very old god from a different age: the North Wind. She was not very happy about this! He is a cold, uncaring god, but the diplomats did manage to make a deal with him: he would allow them to worship him and build his church within their kingdom. For although he does not need worshippers, he likes them! Now, there will still be the matter of dealing with his ten sons, who are sure to invade the kingdom to slay him when the next winter arrives. But that is months away! Plenty of time.
  • Dungeon Skull Mountain (I couldn't resist), a vast megadungeon fortress where the Dark Lord dwells, along with his nine. The diplomatic corps has made contact with the Dark Lord and his nine, and they have made a deal with him. Admittedly, in the process, one of the diplomats did quit the corps and join the Dark Lord (better job prospects, in terms of promotions, you know). On the other hand, one of the nine, the Vampire Lord Lightbane, quit the forces of Dungeon Skull Mountain and joined the diplomatic corps. So some progress was made! Now the Corps need only find the location of the god of death so that the Dark Lord can kill him. Before the end of the year. As stipulated in the contract.
Other sites which await visits from the Corps include:

  • The Spider Swamp, where numerous expeditions have been sent in the last six moons since the founding of the RSDC. None have returned, yet. But now that the training has been doubled to two full days, the leaders of the Corps are really quite certain that the next group will meet with success.
  • Crater Town, where a star fell some hundred years ago, and where miners now dig for strange and precious metals and stones. Many miners have over the years fallen prey to strange humours and have begun thinking... gelatinous... thoughts. Diplomatic relations must be opened with the entities behind these thoughts.
Finally, the following sites can also be seen on the map of the kingdom, but no diplomats have been sent to them as yet:

  • The Pit of the Necromancer
  • The Black Duke's Fortress
  • The Mines of the Mountain King
  • The Valley of the Unicorns
  • The Desert of Cosmic Horror
  • The Shire

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I'll never read Planescape's prose the same way again

From Steve Roud's discussion of Cockney rhyming slang in his excellent London Lore: The Legends and Traditions of the World's Most Vibrant City:
Several terms that started as rhyming slang have now entered the general language, albeit not at the posh end of the spectrum. It is not uncommon to hear the verb to rabbit (from rabbit and pork), meaning to talk a lot, or for someone to say, 'Let's have a butcher's at that', or 'That's a load of old cobblers'. There are many people who say 'He's a right berk', or 'He's a proper Charlie', without realising that the words originated as contractions of Berkshire Hunt and Charlie Hunt.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Exorcising Dragons: An Addendum to the Literary and Folkloric Precedents for Dragon Subdual

I was re-reading Dunsany's "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" earlier this week and was reminded of a literary precedent for dragon subdual that I thought I should add to supplement my previous post, "Exorcising Dragons."

I don't know how I forgot to mention this one the first time.
Alderic thus decided: he would take no horse down to the river's edge, he would not row along it in a boat, and he would go alone and by way of the Forest Unpassable.

How pass, you may say, the unpassable? This was his plan: there was a dragon he knew of who if peasants' prayers are heeded deserved to die, not alone because of the number of maidens he cruelly slew, but because he was bad for the crops; he ravaged the very land and was the bane of a dukedom.

Now Alderic determined to go up against him. So he took horse and spear and pricked till he met the dragon, and the dragon came out against him breathing bitter smoke. And to him Alderic shouted, "Hath foul dragon ever slain true knight?" And well the dragon knew that this had never been, and he hung his head and was silent, for he was glutted with blood. "Then," said the knight, "if thou would'st ever taste maiden's blood again thou shalt be my trusty steed, and if not, by this spear there shall befall thee all that the troubadours tell of the dooms of thy breed."

And the dragon did not open his ravening mouth, nor rush upon the knight, breathing out fire; for well he knew the fate of those that did these things, but he consented to the terms imposed, and swore to the knight to become his trusty steed.

It was on a saddle upon this dragon's back that Alderic afterwards sailed above the unpassable forest, even above the tops of those measureless trees, children of wonder.

This has it all.

First, as is typical of dragons in the old tales, the thing is a pestilence upon the very land itself, ruining crops with its foul presence. A classic dragon trope.

Second, the dragon knows it cannot defeat the knight and so submits. Indeed, is subdued, acting in servitude to the knight. It does try mightily later in the tale to snap at maidens as it passes, but Aldric holds it under his control. I also like that the dragon knows how these kinds of stories always end -- there's a nice wink to the reader there, an invitation to fellow lovers of wondrous tales to join in recognizing the tropes of the genre, which is not uncommon with Dunsany.

Third, the knight puts a saddle on the dragon and rides it. That's just cool. It was cool in 1912, cool in 1974, cool in 1984, and cool in 2010 and beyond.

Addendum to the addendum: Also, Aldric is a D&D adventurer. He's a real bastard. He just wants to steal from the Gibbelins (who, it should be noted, only keep piles of gold around to attract adventurers for them to eat!). Look at his deal with the dragon, 'Look, if you ever want to taste the sweet, sweet blood of a virgin girl again, you're going to have to work with me on this." He's not fighting dragons to protect fair maidens. He just needs a ride over the Forest Unpassable so he can loot that hoard.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elves are Dicks: Dark Sun Edition

You think elves are dicks in your favorite generic fantasy world? Well try Dark Sun on for size. I submit the following:

  1. Elves run for days on end. If elders and pregnant women fall behind, they leave them to die (Dark Sun Campaign Setting: Rules Book, p. 6). It's a good thing elves are so fertile, otherwise they might have a population problem!
  2. Elves are a race of itinerant thieves (Dark Sun Campaign Setting, choose any page with the word "elf" on it.).
  3. Elves travelling with outsiders set up "tests" of "trust." These tests might include sabotaging the water supply and seeing if they still get a "fair" share. Also, getting captured by enemies on purpose or picking unnecessary fights with deadly enemies for the sole purpose of forcing potential "friends" to step up into mortal danger to prove their "trustworthiness." Elves get bonus XP for doing this kind of thing (Dark Sun Campaign Setting: Rules Book, p. 66). Yes. Elves are worried about whether or not you can be trusted.

The Fantasy Trip was made for Dark Sun.


Gladiators. TFT is built on the chassis of a head-to-head, hex-and-chit mini-game. Gladiatorial-style combats are exactly where the combat system sings.

Preservers and Defilers: A perfect fit. The only difference between a preserver and a defiler is how you choose to act. All wizards can choose to draw magic from their own strength, as default TFT assumes. Or they can draw it from living things around them (saving their own strength). Make your choice. It's no wonder the templars are out to destroy not only renegade defilers but also preservers -- they're all a potential threat to the food supplies, making them an even greater threat to the rule of the local Sorcerer King than they are just for being wizards. They're not just competition. They're a potentially destabilizing force. Without any food, the desperate slaves may be pushed entirely over the brink into rebellion.

There are no gods. As in Dark Sun, there are no gods. Now, Dark Sun did give cleric players the option of being elemental clerics, but fuck that noise. With TFT, there are no gods, and that's that. Religious leaders can take the appropriate talents (Priest & Theologian). If they want to also true miracle workers, they can use wizardry to accomplish their miracles, always drawing from their own strength rather than defiling the world around them. As a bonus, summoning and controlling elemental powers is particularly interesting in TFT. Of course, that does make them charlatans (or deluded). Hey, it's a harsh world. Also, miracle working holy men and women are certain to attract the attention of the Sorcerer Kings's Templars, for all the reasons preservers and defilers do plus the fact that they're horning in on the King's whole "divinity" angle. Templars, of course, are just wizards with religious talents in the Sorcerer King's employ.

Races: The races are pretty well accounted for. Elves are already fast when unarmored (higher MA). Giants (renamed half-giants) are already a default player race. Even half-dwarves are mentioned in the monster/character section of In the Labyrinth. I'd probably want to add their exertion thing, but that's portable. Also, Hymenopterans are a good base for Thri-Kreen. Halflings, interestingly, have a bonus to reaction checks. I think this can be attributed to their tendency toward cultural mimicry in the Dark Sun setting -- they're trying so hard to fit in!

It's a dangerous world. TFT combat is brutal. Life is short and ugly under the dark sun. TFT keeps it that way.

But what about psionics?
Not built in, but easy to accommodate. Here's what I'd do. First, I'd pull out a list of "psionic" type spells from the default TFT spell list as available psionic abilities. Second, during character creation, anyone can learn these at no penalty as psionics. First psionic talent costs 1 IQ, second costs 2, third costs 3. (Probably -- or maybe 2,3,4). They can be cast at no DX penalty regardless of whether the character is a hero or wizard. Also, they don't require somatic/verbal components. However, unlike wizards, you can never draw energy for "casting" from the world around you (of course). Also, no spellbooks, item enchantments, etc. That's off the top of my head. There might be other balancing tweaks needed, but that's the general idea.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Exorcising Dragons

  • "hanging its head in front of the most holy man, harmless and as if obedient"
  • "meek in spirit and with friendly noise"
  • "hanging its head, sobbing"
  • "it put its head on the ground"
  • "it humbly rolled its eyes, as if itwas feeling guilty and begging for mercy from him"
  • "it put its head down to the ground"
  • "like a pet dog"
  • "the dragon stood there like a sheep"
  • "that wildest of dragons left and hurried away and never appeared again anywhere"
  • "What more? The abominable dragon obeyed the saint's commands"
The dragon of D&D is typically the dragon of Tolkien and of Beowulf, the dragon that a hero must do battle with and slay. A fitting dragon for a world of adventurers. But not the only dragon of myth.

The dragon of many medieval legends is a creature of a world of God and the devil, and the dragon-slaying" legend of this world is a different kind of tale.

An itinerant saint arrives in a town, outsider to the community: a community suffering from the depredations and poisons of a dragon. The saint goes forth to the cave or pool where the dragon resides, often with townspeople following and observing. The saint calls forth the dragon from its dark place and in the name of God commands it: to go away from this place, to never again cause harm to people, even to die. The dragon is cowed by the saint and the name of the LORD and is subdued. The dragon has been vanquished.

I'll let Christine Rauer's treatment of the topic from her book, Beowulf and the dragon: Parallels and analogues, do the talking here:

Link to p. 71, in case the Google Book doesn't display properly.

Link to p. 72, in case the Google Book doesn't display properly.

Rauer's third chapter, "Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature" is well worth reading in relation to this kind of dragon legend, as is the rest of the book for its masterful review of dragon-fight legendry.

This is not the dragon subdual of D&D, and I doubt these dragon myths had any particular influence on the introduction to "dragon subdual" into the game. But it does set a legendary and mythical precedent for dragon subdual of a different kind.

If I wanted to introduce this into a D&D game, I would do so through the closest analogue: the exorcist extraordinaire of the game itself, the Cleric. The Turning Undead tables in particular are rife for just this kind of application. One could easily expand these tables to include dragons (and demons and devils, for that matter) to better capture the resonance of these hagiographical tales. This works best thematically if dragons are simply dragons, not necessarily differentiated and catalogued into the familiar color-coded symmetry that has petrified over time (Zak's take, and E.G. Palmer's) .

I would be tempted to do something as simple as this:

Cleric vs. Dragon

Level of Cleric

Lesser Wyrm

Greater Wyrm
























This assumes that the DM will make a judgment call as to whether the dragon is a lesser or greater wyrm. I chose levels 4 and 8 as "breakpoint" levels because of their resonances with "Heros" and "Superheroes" in Chainmail and early D&D. The table assumes a "low level" world. Your Cleric vs. Dragons table might look very different.

Hat tip to The Geyhawk Grognard for prompting this post!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gen Con 2010

It's confirmed. I'll be back again this year. Anyone who wants to get together for a beer or a rainy city pick-up game at some point, let me know. I'll bring my usual travel bag for pick-up games (B/X D&D, The Fantasy Trip, and Street Fighter), and I'll be up for playing or running any of them when I'm not in other events and cruising the dealer hall.

The Rainy City Tour

More about the rainy city from a friend's blog, Readying for Ragnarok.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rickety and the Swells

The Rainy City is surrounded by a tempest-wracked sea. Wretched salvage gangs, brazen pirates, and hardened monster-trawlers sail the storm swells to their own desperate ends. Reports from these mariners and the captains of refugee ships speak of nine great cycles in the storm and of the nine great waves encircling the city. Beyond the ninth wave, it is said, lies the end of all worlds.

It is by these waves that rainy city mariners navigate, such as they can.

Refugee ships are tossed into the outer swells by the maelstroms that have destroyed their home worlds. The storms of the Outer Swells are fiercest, smashing many ships before they even approach the refuge of the Rainy City. Out here there also are monsters: great serpents and demons of wind and wave and thunder. Those ships fortunate enough to survive this passage find no rest, for in the middle swells lurk pirates in fast cutters seeking treasures from lost worlds. Salvage crews pick up where they leave off.

Lost ships may spot a dim light among the waves and finally find hope for refuge.

But they will not find it in Rickety.

(Thanks to Warbeard for his newest contribution to the Rainy City!)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Images of the Rainy City

Sometimes folks sketch at the game table, allowing me to bring you a few images from our rainy city games! These pictures are all courtesy of others -- thanks to Warbeard, Crazyred, and Lee for helping bring the game to life.

Vengus Ult, Alchemist (by Warbeard)

Jaelin the Charmer, Myrmidon-Warlock (by Warbeard)

Bartholomew the Bald, Priest and Clerk (by Crazyred)

Bartholomew the Bald (by Warbeard)

Kraul Geist, Burglar (by Warbeard)

Thevin Goon, Cutpurse (by Lee)

Thevin Goon's map of the Rainy City (by Lee)

Investigating the chests in the haunted ship (by Crazyred)
Bartholomew the Bald goes for a walk (by Crazyred)

Schwiller, boatman of the Nimbus Channel (by Warbeard)

Vassili, A Wizard of No Small Renown, some time after his... incident (by Warbeard)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Personalities of the Rainy City -- Part X

Ah, the Grand Salon.

That renowned gathering of the finest minds of the wizardly elite, where the most impressive magical inventions of the past year are put on display, and where Mauvin the High Critic will declare the greatest of arcanopoetic artefact of the year. A fine occasion for camaraderie and collegiality. Yes, it is admittedly true that the salon often attracts base sorts who attempt to steal these great works of art from their rightful owners. Shameful! Such behavior is beneath the attention of true wizards, who would deign neither to engage in it or show concern about it. Let the Salon begin!

The Critical Trivium of the Grand Salon, Arbiters of Taste
Mauvin, the High Critic: His discernment is so far beyond that of the next man that it should be no surprise that his judgments are at times incomprehensible! What will he select this year as the greatest item of power and art? Last year it was Hyperion the Hated's fantastic Crystal Ovoid. This year? While Hyperion the Hated's entry has the advantage of not having been purloined, and it is hardly the case that Hyperion could have planned for the competitors' items to have been stolen, it would set a bad precedent.
Musca the Censor: A mysterious wizard who roams the sump in a tattered uniform, Musca the Censor decides! It is he who decides which topics of conversation are to be approved and which rejected. It is he who decides which ales from which taverns are to be approved and which rejected. He only need taste a pint of each to be sure! Musca ventures up to the Parliament House only for the Salon, at the request of the wise and unquestionable Mauvin the High Critic. For Musca can find flaw in any thing put before him -- a sure sign of his vast intellectual prowess.
Mirk the Dull: Not dull of mind -- dull of sheen! Mauvin's very presence drains the luster from everything and everyone around him. Yet his discernment must be sharp -- for he often agrees with Mauvin the High Critic, a sign that he too can see the true greatness in any thing that Mauvin has declared to be great.

Wizard Lords, High Necromancers, and True Magi with Work on Display in the Grand Hall
Dominian the Proscriptor: His entry in the Salon is a wand of many and divers wonders! Stinking clouds, flaming spheres, and more will be cast about the Grand Salon in Parliament House before the day is out! He comes with a crew of servants and apprentices fashionably dressed with masks of his very likeness. And he has some words for these, his trusted confederates and servants: His lifestyle requires money. I think you all know what he's saying. Make him proud!
Habitus Helveticus: Master of the fastest messenger service in the city, dashing through rain slicked streets without falter! Everyone knows what he will bring to the Salon, his newly minted boots of sprinting, striding, and springing. A bit crass, of course, to bring to the salon an invention he has already revealed to the public and used for base profit. His class is questionable.
Hyperion the Hated: A wizard of fire and flame, it is said. A rare gift in the rainy city! His entry in the Salon? A tattered cloak hanging within a magical case. Watch as he rudely raps the case! The cloak turns, and within it is full of eyes and teeth! A valuable security measure against thieves and theft. And who else among the wizards has actually created life! It is no matter that the cloak is wholly unlike the enchanted girdle he left in the vaults, where the magics were supposed to have been kept over night. And a good thing, for some scoundrel has stolen that girdle in the night.
Iambic Pentacular: The greatest wizard of the tower cliffs, by some estimations, not least by his own! His entry? The bowl! Peering into its waters calls forth a watery double of the wizard, to do his bidding about town in his absence. Why should a wizard of Iambic Pentacular's standing go outside and get his head wet. His watery double can do so! Its head is already wet!
Oculam the Oracular: He knows all. He sees all! Tonight at dinner, there will be potatoes! His invention? The "Tarpaulin of the Starry Sky." It is no wonder that Oculam is the greatest Astrologer in the city!
Petticroft Grue: No great wizard, good Petticroft, but the Grue family has been invited to the Salon since its earliest days. He could not in good taste be uninvited. And his entry in the Salon? A work of no little interest: a portable shadow! Truly it is a thing of wonder, albeit it of dubious utility.
Pizarro: A broken man since the fall of his steam baths at the hands of some petty rival who would certainly not have the gall to enter the salon himself. Pizarro's entry in the Salon this year? A scroll. Upon the scroll, the true name of a powerful demonic spirit of fire and flame, a salamander! A certain salamander, perhaps? But it is a shame that Pizarro forgot to lock up the scroll securely in the vaults, having absentmindedly left the door unlocked! Thieves and dangerous men may have stolen the scroll. How unfortunate for Pizarro! And how much more unfortunate for the salamander's current master!
Vassili, A Wizard of No Small Renown: The violent reptilian arm of doom that juts forth from the center of his chest, cruelly slashing at the air? That, it seems, is his entry. What does it do, you ask? It gets his hats back. Can it get other people's hats back? Other people's hats are of dubious quality.
Zaam the Alacritous: That business with his apprentice Jack and the sword that sent him on a killing spree? That was really all a terrible misunderstanding. The sword he is entering in the Salon this year, however, would do no such thing. It is a tiny token to be worn upon the neck as a fashionable accessory. It may grow to be a fine weapon of war, but it is certainly not as enthusiastic about war as the other blade.

Common Conjurers and Witches with Petty Displays in the Entry Hall
The Witch, Antigone Graves: No witches are allowed to enter the salon, and it is an act of great nerve to enter even the petty displays in the hall. No matter! The witch's so called "Rod of Cancellation" can hardly be an item of true power.
Phangol the Gallant: Inventor of the "purloin proof purse," he will sell you one for only the triflingest of fees.
Syntacticus the Deep: He stands before you to demonstrate a quill of inestimable mystery! It writes... but now where has the ink gone? A fine businessman such as yourself can certainly see its value. Purely for display in a frame on your office wall, of course!
Oster the Frog: His appearance? Unfortunate. His magic? Unusual! His petty display? An arrow which holds within it a single bolt of lightning he trapped by climbing the highest tree in the Sump and catching it! Why an arrow? He dropped his bottle, and was forced to improvise.
Johor the Gibbous: A silk rope, 50' in length. It coils. It uncoils. It climbs!
Garmoud, the Bloody Handed: He holds before you a stone. But not just any stone. A stone that would be the envy of many an alchemist. (Well, ok, not that stone. But it is a fine stone, nonetheless.)

Servants, Apprentices, and Ilk of Little Import
Apprentices, Servants, and Aides to the Great Wizards: A motley bunch, with shifty eyes and nimble fingers. Not at all fitting the bookish stereotype so many have of wizardly sorts. But the wizards claim them as their very own, and who would doubt the honesty of a wizard!
Vengus Ult: Alchemist-Philosopher, now turned apprentice to Dominian the Proscriptor? Truly this is a surprise! And where is the big jug of acid he always carries around? He didn't bring it with him.
Kshelek Stacks: Priest of indeterminate faith! He may not have all the answers, but he has pamphlets!
Jack: That business with the sword and the killing spree? He doesn't really like talking about it. No, he doesn't know what happened to the sword. Why do you ask?
A Nameless Wench Apprenticed to Zagyg the Eccentric: A female apprentice? One more reason to question Zagyg's judgment. Where is Zagyg the Eccentric, anyway? His apprentice assures you that he is indeed here to enter an item in the Salon. Perhaps you just missed him. She'll gladly pass your message on to him.
A Boy Apprentice to Oculam the Oracular: He is not a kid. He is fourteen years old and an apprentice. Pretty grown up.
A First Year Apprentice, Gray Haired and Bearded: Beneath his robes a fisherman's shirt. His hands rough and calloused. He assures you that his master has taught him the secrets to drawing the magic frentogram! And he is happy to share with you his smoking tobacco. It helps power the thaumatanergic energies, you know.
Sergeant Pollux: The Sergeant at Arms of Tower Cliffs. His job? Simply to keep an eye on the apprentices and other lesser servants, who are of course trustworthy, as no true wizard would bring an untrustworthy fellow into the Grand Salon. Still, he wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't keep an eye on the lot of them regardless.
Bartholomew the Bald: A most trusted and trustworthy clerk of the Grand Salon, he is here simply to accompany the Sergeant and count things. Apprentices. Load-bearers. Servants. Works to be entered into the Salon and kept securely within the vaults until they are brought out for display. Yes, yes. In his humble judgment, everything appears to be accounted for.
Jaelin, the Charmer: With as many friends as Jaelin has, one might think he too would have warranted an invitation to the Grand Salon! Well perhaps he did, but good friend that he is, he instead agreed to watch over the home of Dominian the Proscriptor in his absence. In a wizard's absence, a house could be ransacked, after all!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Foolish and Wicked Thing

Even his wife's face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white and expectant, and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.

"Wish!" she cried, in a strong voice.

"It is foolish and wicked," he faltered.

"Wish!" repeated his wife.

He raised his hand. "I wish my son alive again."

W.W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw," 1902
When the dead come back, they come back wrong. And the act of bringing them back is a crime against god. A terrible thing.

"The Monkey's Paw." Pet Sematary. "Herbert West -- Reanimator." Frankenstein. Vampires. Zombies. In their way, the central figures of "Scanners Live in Vain."

" is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27)

Bringing someone or something back from the dead will not -- can not -- turn out right.

Raising the dead is a form of necromancy.

Like many folks, I've always had mixed feelings about Raise Dead spells. Some DMs ban it. Others keep it as is, albeit begrudgingly. Others manage it by designing low level worlds with few high enough level priests to cast it, or by making it difficult to get access to in other ways. In a game as deadly as D&D can often be, raising the dead can allow for character continuity that might otherwise be lacking and can protect players from the loss of favored characters. But it's fair to say (and is often enough said) that it also cheapens death. After a certain point, character death becomes little more than a temporary setback. An annoyance, certainly. But not a truly significant event, in most cases.

Making the raising of the dead an act of necromancy in the campaign world is just another way to put a darker spin on this classic D&D trope, without taking it away completely. Perhaps the dead always come back changed -- chaotic and evil -- twisted versions of their former selves. Raisers of the dead are hated and feared, outcaste or untouchable, dangerous and hunted.


Only the desperate and reckless would dare seek them out, the driven and dangerous dare to take upon themselves such power.

But what are adventurers if not desperate, reckless, driven, and dangerous...

Thursday, January 7, 2010