More Name Day Musings
Volume 39: Brought to you by 4 grams of acetaminophen
First up, apologies for the late post—I’ve been laid low by vicious microbes. While I prefer to challenge my liver with single malt, I’ve been forced to push the limits of advisable acetaminophen consumption in what’s thus far been a vain effort to vanquish The Germ. At least I’ve regained the function of speech…
But you’re here to partake of my wisdom. Alright, here it is: By the time you read this, I shall be older. Another year atomised and spritzed into the evaporating mists of time. Which means that loyal readers like you get to suffer the burden of my random thoughts. And, really, they’ve been all over the place. Time to clear my stack. To whit:
Thundarr is Lawful
Thundarr has become my RPG guidepost. A good RPG should let you run a Saturday morning cartoon with minimal effort. Those cartoons—Johnny Quest, The Herculoids, even Josie and the Pussycats (outer space only)—are short, sharp shocks that set up and resolve a plotline in record time. I want to run my games the same way: quick exposition (drawn from an abundant field of available hooks) then right to the action parts. In other words, it’s the “show, don’t tell” approach to guiding PCs through your campaign setting.
Chimera and Saturday morning cartoons have one thing in common: they’re both more concerned about what happens than how it happened. As a rules-lite construct, Chimera Basic gets you to the Action-Place fast and without fuss.
Thundarr the Barbarian falls right into Chimera’s sweet spot, and the fact that I dig his post-apocalypse vibe puts him at the top of the list of things my RPG should be able to run. In Chimera terms, here are some fun facts I’ve invented about Thundarr:
- Thundarr is Lawful (based on his frequent appeals to the “Lords of Light”). He’s also a Veteran with the Buttress and Mighty Blow Sperks
- Princess Ariel is (clearly) an Occultist, with access to the Abjuration, Enchantement, Evocation, and (if memory serves) Illusion schools
- Ookla the Mok is his Own Thing, a lot like a Cat Person (CB/4), but stronger
- The Sun Sword looks something like this: (TL 9; ABL Fight; Size Medium; Dmg 1d8; Rng 1″; Enc 0). When used to Break Objects (CB/15), roll 2d8 for damage
Not Using a Computer
Not long ago, I created a bunch of encounter tables by hand. I know: Big Deal.
But, really, it was. Normally I would fire up Inspiration Pad Pro and start tinkering with automating encounter determination. But because I was waiting for pizza in the oven and was too lazy to run upstairs for my laptop, I figured, What the hell—I can use “pencils.”
Inordinately gratifying. Like a nostalgic head rush—I was back in 7th-grade study hall, creating tables, rolling dice, and writing stats on actual notebook paper. Only this time, I had 26 more years of gaming experience to rely on.
Then I Used a Computer
I pimped my HP Mini Netbook for exclusive RPG usage. It’s got the full NBOS Suite: Fractal Mapper, The Keep, Inspiration Pad Pro, Character Sheet Designer; a PDF of Chimera Basic; drafts of upcoming Chimera material, and a link to my DropBox to ensure current versions of my working files. The only thing it doesn’t have is a copy of Hexographer—the screen is literally too short for me to access the License button at the bottom of the Hexographer splash screen. Must ask Joe about that…
Anyway, the idea is that I take the Netbook with me on long car rides, my daily commute, and (natch) the gaming table. The odd thing is this: while I prefer to use a computer while running my games, I also prefer to use a felt-lined dice tray. So while I’ve lowered my encumbrance by replacing all my rulebooks, notebooks, and binders with a 3-pound computer, I somehow feel it necessary to lug around a foot-wide, 2-pound wooden dice tray. File this under “Disconnect.”
A fun exercise is to take a map—any map, just by itself—and figure out who lives there, how everyone gets along, and what they all get up to. All of these conjectures are based just on the terrain, settlements, and points of interest shown on the map.
Aside from being a fast way to jump-start a campaign, part of the reason I like this is because it’s sometimes easier to create ideas to match the setting, instead of having to create a setting to match your ideas. Plus, it’s a good way to stretch your creative muscles—here’s a map, carve out your kingdoms and wilderness, and people it however you like.
The D&D Elders did pretty much this exact thing when they recommended use of the Outdoor Survival game board as a campaign map. One map, and every GM’s interpretation is different.
You can do this with any number of published maps—Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Glorantha—or (better yet) less biased cartography: National Park Service Maps or Maps of the Ancient World for real-world locations, or Free Fantasy Maps, and a Google search on “Free Fantasy Maps” for made-up places.
The Church of Law
More and more, I’m thinking of a quasi/pseudo Christianity approach to religion in my fantasy campaign. Civilised people worship the One God, perhaps in a multiple denominations. Barbarian people worship a host of nature-oriented demi-gods, and Chaotic folks (satan worshipers) get on with a variety of C’thuloid entities.
It’s a simple arrangement, but the most appealing part is verisimilitude—pretty much any player will instantly recognise what’s what. No more speculation about what exactly Tyrstara the Magic War god represents—if he ain’t the One God, and he’s not from Out of Space, you know he’s some barbarian power. Clerics, in the traditional “D&D” sense, become holy warriors—members of religious fighting orders or crusaders—relegating priests and bishops to NPC status. Which makes sense, because they don’t have time to go on adventure anyway.
Druids are obviously barbarian priest-types, and what used to be known as the “anti-cleric” becomes a cult C’thuloid follower. In this scheme, magic (in the arcane sense) is just an esoteric area of knowledge—kind of like how most modern folk today would view esoteric science. Followers of the One God will associate magic with the Chaotic C’thuluoids. Chaotic C’thuluoids might delve into such areas where useful, but are more likely to have their own version of magic, as taught by the C’thuloids themselves.
I get the whole premise of divine magic—you’re a devout worshiper of some god, who rewards your abundant piety with spell-casting ability.
But how about this subtle change: instead of the deity actually bestowing such ability upon the character, the character’s spells are powered by his own unyielding faith? In other words, the spells are really manifestations of a character’s supreme confidence/faith/surety in his deity’s power. But the deity doesn’t actually do anything—he’s not listening to prayers, planting magic seeds in the cleric’s soul, or zapping his followers’ enemies. Instead, the deity’s teachings—through some catechism, rites, meditation, whatever—contain the secrets to wielding divine magic, provided the practioner has enough faith.
As a young, vigourous GM, I felt it my duty to invent all plots in my campaign, complete with twists, turns, and the requisite cleverness that all who hold English degrees are purported to possess.
But screw that. I don’t have time to recarve the wheel. Instead, I’ve taken to picking through old cartoon episode guides for adventure plots. Again, Thundarr points the way. Do the same with the D&D cartoon, Johnny Quest, The Herculoids, He-Man, ThunderCats, even Covington Cross (which, while not a cartoon, is still replete with fantasy plot goodness).
Comments welcome, debate encouraged. While you’re digesting these nuggests, I’ll be on the couch, basking in the needful sleep that only flu meds can provide.