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More Name Day Musings

Volume 39: Brought to you by 4 grams of acetaminophen

Microbes suck

Microbes suck

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.

Gemini creature

Your campaign needs this

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...

dice tray

So not required

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."

Map-based Campaigns

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.

Acadia national park

National Park or Fantasy Realm?

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.

Dreidel Squid

Squids for Jehovah

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.

Divine Magic

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.



Multi-angle bicycle

I fail at 'round'

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).

Final Words

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.

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  1. December 2nd, 2010 at 13:03 | #1

    I hope you get well soon, Erin! A grab bag of such open discussion points is not good when we want more Kaiserbots!

    I totally get the Saturday Morning Cartoons – this is pretty much what draws every kid to gaming, yet somehow we all grow up and get taught we need all these extra rules and stuff, when we don’t – they are guidelines at most. None of the characters in the cartoons needed to see or know the rules to anything, yet increasingly players can’t seem to get started without them.

    Enjoy your naming day as much as you can.

  2. deimos3428
    December 2nd, 2010 at 15:21 | #2

    Aaaahh! I can’t keep up with the forums AND the blog posts. :D

  3. December 2nd, 2010 at 20:51 | #3

    @deimos3428 : Ugh. Try writing all this stuff…;)

  4. December 3rd, 2010 at 12:42 | #4

    @Erin D. Smale I do – it’s a crazy schedule! Mind you, with the cold winter weather hitting me hard, my productivity is way down anyway, so most of my work is being done in bite-sized chunks in between not freezing to death and staying motivated. It’s a wonder how you manage it all, Erin.

  5. Greg MacKenzie
    December 7th, 2010 at 11:20 | #5

    @Erin D. Smale I’m sorry to hear your Ill Erin. I hope you’ll be feeling better soon.

    One of my favourite things to do is just take a Hilroy scribbler, and a pencil, and just daydream. The story, or whatever it is, usually just comes to me and away I go. I find that the pencil and paper, unlike a computer, is liberating, so the computer is always last in my thoughts.

    With regard to your thought about clerics, there was once an episode of Dr. Who in which vampires were held off by strong belief, and any strong belief would do. The Doctor could do it on his own, but a Russian soldier was able to fend them off as well with his hat pin due to his belief in the revolution. Such an idea, if applied to the cleric takes the top down power distribution model away from supernatural metaphysical beings and places it squarely in the realm of parapsychology. One might argue then, why gods at all, why not psionics. I think there is a subtle distinction to be made there between “fantasy” and “science fiction”. If these powers originate from within the characters themselves it leans towards SF and I suppose the age old problem is, once you have the power of a God, the difficulty lies in figuring out what to do with it for good or evil. Within fantasy deities do serve as a moral compass for their followers, a literary canon which most accept unquestioningly.

    By the way, I’ve modified that draft of the UFGE Special Operations Manual I sent you to fix several textual items and issues with the graphics. I’ll probably put a blurb and a link to the new file in the forum later this week since its basically inspirational material for players. I’ve also started the main layout of the actual adventure. Well, that’s totally off your topic…

    Get some rest, hope you feel better soon,


  6. December 8th, 2010 at 21:53 | #6

    @Greg MacKenzie I had to look up Hilroy scribbler, but after seeing the cover, I can say with certainty that you have the coolest of all the Canadian flags.

    I have what I call a commonplace book–basically a bound notebook–on my nightstand, which I use to jot down notes whenever I wake up with a brilliant idea, see something on TV that inspires a campaign idea, or when I feel like sitting outside and (like you) letting my mind wander. I agree–there is a liberating quality to it.

    Good points about clerics and faith. You’re right–if there is no deity behind it, then ‘miracles’ are really nothing more than powers manifested by force of will. Not much different than psionics on the surface. The origin of this thought was laziness–how could I avoid the need to justify powers for clerics who worship ‘dead’ or ‘lost’ gods, or even just apathetic immortals?

    Maybe I don’t. One thing I’ve found is that I spend far more time than necessary justifying how everything in my campaign works. The reality is that the players rarely care, and as long as they’re not confronted by some in-setting contradiction that prevents them from doing something reasonable, it’s almost never an issue. More OCD taking over, I’m afraid…

    You ever get analysis paralysis with your campaigns? Anyone?

  7. December 9th, 2010 at 08:49 | #7

    Psionics isn’t much different from sorcery or other forms of channelling though. Take druids – they do not necessarily worship a nature deity, but the natural world as a whole, and are able to shape this through their belief. Therefore, could it not be that the belief of an ideal, such as Law and Chaos is equally enough?

    Analysis paralysis only sets in when you lose sight of why you are analysing something. If you can come with an idea and find a way to make that work, in the form of a house rule or adventure hook, then it’s not analysis paralysis.

    The real advice is to show, not tell, and let the players choose what they want to do. Discovering the truth of how cosmology works in your world can result in some of the best adventures and campaign arcs.

  8. Greg MacKenzie
    December 9th, 2010 at 09:07 | #8

    @Erin D. Smale Usually paralysis sets in when I overthink something and begin to add un-necessary detail and or attempting to make it all consistent. Your correct in thinking players don’t care how many Snurgs are there to be hacked to bits based on an environmental assesment and the population density of a grid hex. They only care that the Snurgs are there to be hacked to bits. I think the exercises we GMs go through to arrive at X is often underappreciated. Of course players are quick to criticise anything they believe doesn’t fit, the ungrateful rubes, can’t they see how much effort I put into the Snurgs! Roll your damn dice then ingrates…

    With regard to Lost or Dead Gods… You make a good point. In the top down model the priesthood would obviously have diminished ability. Maybe we should consider that the power source is distinct from the God which channels it to it’s followers? That’s how I’d handle that. This model is not dis-similar to the source of supernatural magic used by Wizards. Of course these priests would seek to awaken, release, or re-birth their chosen God in order to increase their abilities. Their new powers however would be distinct from those used by Wizards through having been channeled by a God.

    Voila! Unparalyzed!


  9. December 9th, 2010 at 11:11 | #9

    @Greg MacKenzie : I think you’re right on the Lost/Dead gods thing – but this is where I trip up. If these gods aren’t present to provide their clerics with powers, where are the clerics getting their power from? Do they even have powers? If so, do they know the powers are coming from a non-deity source? What is that source? If that source is powerful enough, why bother to revive the Lost/Dead god? Paralysis sets in…

    In other news, I will provide stats for the Kaiserbots if you provide stats for Snurgs.

  10. deimos3428
    December 9th, 2010 at 11:16 | #10

    One of the main tenets of Chimera powers system is that the “how” doesn’t matter so much as the “what”. I’m also reminded of Q’s explanation of how to change the gravitational constant of the universe. “You just do it”.

    Likewise, there’s no real need for a GM to *explain* how magic/physics/alchemy/gunpowder/chemistry/physics/AI/etc. work, so much as *describe* what works and what doesn’t. It still needs to be a teensy bit logical, but you’ve got a lot more leeway in a fictional setting.

  11. Greg MacKenzie
    December 9th, 2010 at 12:51 | #11

    @Erin D. Smale What I’m thinking is that you have a “raw source” which is drawn apon by Priests and Wizards. However, a supernatural being (Diety/Demon/etc.), by nature of its status, modifies the raw source, magnifying it, altering it, and making certain powers available which would otherwise be unavailable. For example:

    Hathros the Priest of Gah-Tuk has some powers, not unlike those of a wizard, however the powers he craves can only come from Gah-Tuk the Sleeping One. He wants to revive the sleeping god so that he can receive new powers from the ancient God. The spells he will wants may be unavailable in the campaign unless Gah-Tuk is awakened, Gah-Tuk may increase his power, provide abilities or other opportunities/perks to his followers, etc.

    How is that? Unmuddled?


    Ya-Thoi! Cry the Snurgs as they follow the trail of the Kaiserbot Tommy and Bill are dragging back to the command post… The eyes of the nearly immobilized Kaiserbot flash on and off, ACHTUNG! ACHTUNG! VERMIN NÄHERN!

  12. Greg Mackenzie
    December 9th, 2010 at 14:20 | #12

    @Erin D. Smale Snurgs are ambulatory carniverous fungi, Toadstools, approximately 1/2 the height of a man, whose tops grow to a diameter of 3 feet. They grow only in the dead of a moonlit night on the soil of forgotten battlefields. What Snurgs are is bloodthirsty, and at night they pull themselves from the ground to gather and squabble over the any bit of rotting meat they can find, tearing it to bits and scattering it across the soil, before re-seeding the bloodied ground with the next generation of Snurgs. Only their numbers make them dangerous for the flesh of the Snurgs is soft, deathly pale white, and frail. Snurgs babble uncontrollably calling Ya-Thoi! when they detect prey and this always attracts additional Snurgs to the feeding. Snurgs can Observe wounded prey and will gather around the wounded or dying. Missiles do 1/2 damage to Snurgs.

    Snurg (Prd 1; MR 4″; WL 3 (T); DF 0; RS 18; AT bite/16 (IM +2, Dmg 1d4); AB Fight/16, Sneak/15, Survival/16, Athletics/16, Observe/18; PK Resistance (Missiles 1/2 Dmg), Freq. Uncommon (1d4/4d4), Align/Chaotic)

  13. December 9th, 2010 at 16:09 | #13

    @Greg Mackenzie : And that, my loyal readers, is how it’s done.

  1. December 6th, 2010 at 12:03 | #1