Friday, January 28, 2011

Arya culture and society - an overview

note: as my long-time readers will recognize (all both of you), I am slightly modifying things, in line with my evolving conception of a dawn of civ milieu, dropping the Arya and Derjuden cultures back into a more primitive condition, ca 1000 B.C., and moving the major Arya city from Tempe to Phoenix (better positioned across the river to their rivals in Mesa).

Arya Origins

The Arya came to AZ as a migratory group of hunter-herders, entering AZ from the east some 200-300 years ago. Epic tales describe their origins in a mighty kingdom along a river valley far to the east. However, their connection to the east was severed by the rise of the Dark Horde in southeast AZ, and the Arya have been on their own in AZ for the last century or so.

The grasslands along the rivers provide forage for their herds, as well as water for their crops. Their primary settlement in AZ is the fortified town of Phoenix, along the lush Salt River in the center of the region. Phoenix is the military center of Arya society, home to the High King, as well as a productive agricultural center.

Smaller Arya fortified settlements have also developed in other locations: Prescott and Superior as mining communities on the mountain edges, Buckeye as an agricultural center along the Gila River, Blythe as a trading town on the Colorado River, and Tucson and Wickenberg as military forts guarding against humanoid, giant, and Dark Horde incursions.

The Arya are a war-loving people, taking joy in battle and conquest. They patrol their lands restlessly on war chariots. They are semi-literate, with an expertise in enchanting weapons and armor, but only a primitive command of magic otherwise. They are ruled loosely by their high king, but the clans remain fiercely independent, and jockeying for dominance between rival clans is a regular feature of Arya society.

Their primary deity is the founding ancestor of their people, a god of war. They commune with their god through a sacred concoction called soma, which provides their priests with visions in time of peace, and their warriors with valor in times of conflict. They also pay homage to the elemental gods of fire and of the storm.

Culturally, the Arya are known for their love of music, dance, and song, especially when combined in a performance of epic storytelling. The other major Arya pastime is gambling, especially on the results of races, shooting contests, and wrestling matches.

Arya women are known as independent and tempestuous. They are not known for their chastity, and Arya marriages are generally considered temporary arrangements. The household is considered their sphere, and they typically rule it with great autonomy. Their raise their children to be tough and strong, and children often leave the home early. Occasionally, young Arya women will take a vow of celibacy and embark upon a career outside the home.

Relation to Other AZ Groups

The Arya eye the Monmore settlement of Mesa across the Salt River warily. Both groups fiercely compete for domination of the lucrative magical trade with Applied Spellcasting University, as well as for the choice living space along the desert rivers. As both groups grow and expand, large-scale conflict seems inevitable. The Arya also mistrust the Monmore for their cooperative relations with the Derjuden kingdom to the north.

Arya-Derjuden relations are generally volatile and hostile. The two groups come into conflict over the control of land, resources, and trade routes, especially in the central mountains and along the Colorado River. They are in sharp disagreement over how to handle the humanoid groups of the Coconino Mountains, the Arya favoring removal, the Derjuden favoring cooperation. The Arya also despise the Derjuden for their extensive magic use.

Arya-Dineh relations are generally neutral, as both groups seem to respect each others warrior codes, although, paradoxically, physical skirmishes are not infrequent. Their attitude seems to be one of friendly rivalry, and the skirmishes are usually non-lethal, leading most often to capture and ransom. They can often be found cooperating in fights against humanoid and monster groups.

Arya receive Asya monks as envoys into their towns, and seem to enjoy engaging them in friendly wrestling and boxing matches, but as the Asya are not fighting for land or trade routes, they have no significant interactions with them otherwise. A few Arya castaways are known to live in the Asya settlement in Boulder City.

In Game Terms

The dominant character classes of the Arya are Cavaliers, for the chariot-mounted nobility, and Fighters, Rangers, and Thieves for the commoners. Bards are more rare, but are still a regular feature of Arya society.

Clerics are the only group of literate Arya, and they are highly esteemed as wise men and leaders. Members of this priestly caste can be found leading Arya trading/raiding groups throughout the state. Due to their joint worship of the War God and the elemental powers, Arya clerics blend clerical and druidic powers. Although their sacred soma drink has healing and blessing properties, they lack the healing spells, gaining, however, the druidic spells related to fire and air.

Some Arya, usually females, are known to dabble in magic. These Arya magic users, usually called witches, are considered weird and untrustworthy, although also secretly sought after and often hired for special tasks (such as supporting adventuring groups). Other female adventures are primarily Thieves, with small numbers taking up careers as Bards, Assassins, and Fighters as well.

Cavalier 01-15
Ranger 16-30
Fighter 31-65
Thief 66-80
Assassin 81-85
Bard 86-90
Cleric 91-00

Magic User 01-50
Thief 51-80
Assassin 81-90
Bard 91-95
Fighter 96-00

Adventuring Hooks

Arya groups pour across the region in trading/raiding missions, in which anything is fair game. Their attitude is generally one of "Trade with the Strong, Take from the Weak" and so they would be ideal for your prototypical "hack and slash" campaign, fighting non-stop for land, magic, and gold.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Understanding Racial Limitations – Why only Humans can be Clerics and have Psionics, and other Considerations

In my research on cosmology, considering the nature of gods, planes, and the undead, it has become clear why only humans are able to become clerics, why only humans have psionic powers, and why humans are the most powerful magic users.  In short, only humankind has souls.  While the demi-human races seem to be closely related to humans based on outward appearance, there are profound differences beneath the surface. 

The demi-humans are creatures of the natural world, we humans are the interlopers.   They are animated solely with the magical energy of the material world, we are animated with a spirit energy from the astral plane.   When they die, their material spirit expires with their material body, there is no question of survival after death.  For us, death of the body is of the material body only.  Our spiritual essence lives on, joining the ranks of the blessed ancestors (or the hungry ghosts). 

Relation to the Undead

It is no accident that zombies, ghouls, and vampires are all former humans, and all ghosts have a human visage.  Because the demi-humans lack this spiritual essence, they are completely unfamiliar with ghostly hauntings, nor are their bodies susceptible to reanimation.   In other words, they are free of the curse of the undead.  That particular phenomenon is humanity's burden to bear, exclusively. 

Relation to the Divine

However great the curse of the undead, the blessing of the gods is a countervailing benefit.  Just as wicked human souls may haunt the living as dangerous hungry ghosts, the blessed souls of the benevolent may assist the living as guardian angels after they pass on from their earthly life.    The presence of these helpful spirits is based on the survival of the human soul, and thus, again, a feature of humankind only, demi-humans report no such phenomenon among their own people.   

The Astral Mechanism of Psionics

Psionic powers are also based to the spiritual nature of humankind.  The basis of all psionic power is the ability to use one's soul to interact with and manipulate the astral realm. 

Psionic mental attacks, for example, are based on the hostile focusing of astral energy upon the astral body of another.   When you observe a psionic battle while in an ethereal state upon the astral plane, the effects are spectacular.  Beams, waves, and particles of various shining colors, are hurled back and forth between astral combatants, either to be deflected aside by a successful defense, or to tear the victim's astral body to shreds.    

Psionic domination of another is like a ghost possession, as the astral body of the attacker overwhelms the astral body of the victim, shoving it aside to achieve control of the victim's brain apparatus.

Psionics become adept at projecting their souls, out of the shells of their physical bodies, into the astral realm.   Some do this to examine the astral realm for psychic residue of previous events.  Some do this to examine another's astral aura for telltale signs of evil intention, as our astral bodies betray our strong emotions. 

Some psionics project their souls to spy, as an invisible ghost, seeing and hearing the events of the material world in an ethereal state.  Many a supposedly secret conference has been infiltrated in such a wise, to the ruin of men and whole nations!   Foolish is the king who fails to take precautions against such a ruse, I can assure you.

Humans, having souls anchored in the astral realm, have the potential to do these psionic feats; demi-humans, lacking such an astral soul, do not.  It is both a curse and a blessing, for demihumans are also, as a consequence of their unsoulment, unaffected by psionic attacks.    

Demi-Human Magic

The faerie magic of the Elves, and the mysterious illusion-making of the Gnomes, are a natural expression of who they are as magical creatures.  The science of the human magic user is foreign to them.  It appears that the origins of human magic lie in a theft from those races.  Perhaps it was a gift, we will never be sure of its original provenance, but what is undeniable is that many of our magical power words and symbols are taken straight from the native languages of the Elves and Gnomes.   

However, as their magic is a natural expression of their magical nature,  demi-humans are also limited by the scope of that nature.  Human magic users, approaching it from the outside as investigators and plunderers, face no such limitation.   The human magical arts, although clearly based on the natural demi-human magical abilities, have greatly surpassed them in scope and power.  Human magic draws from the magic of the whole world, and includes power words appropriated from other sentient sources, such as giants, dragons, and pixies.  As a result, the most powerful magicians in the known world are invariably of the human stock. 

Comparative Lifespans Considered

The remarkable longevity of the demi-human races also seems to be connected to their unsoulment.  As purely natural creatures, they are sustained by the natural magic of the world.  Its mana infuses them, providing them with their spirit of life.   As such, their natural lives are not subject to same quick decay that we humans must bear.  The life cycle of the demi-human is a languid expression of natural unity with the magical universe.  

This helps account for the lack of grasping ambition in the demi-human races, a trait which is all-too-obvious in human society. Everywhere we look, we see demi-humans, as intelligent and creative as humans in all respects, nevertheless living in harmony with their surroundings, and with each other.   Gazing at humankind we see a different spectacle, best characterized as a perpetual war of all against all: conquering territory, enslaving enemies, building empires, tearing empires down, with never-flagging energy.  

The natural wisdom and long lives of the demi-humans seem to inoculate them against such diseased fanaticism.   We act like harried animals, trapped as we are, as spirit creatures surrounded by the material, as mundane creatures surrounded by the magical.  They are creatures solely of the magical material world, and this provides them with a peace which humans do not seem to know.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Undead - classified and explained

Scholars previously thought that there are numerous different types of undead, and classified them as different creatures. However, that view has now been discredited. The latest research confirms that in reality, there are only two types of undead, each of which progresses through various stages of development and power. Those stages of development and power were mistaken for different creature types. But in reality, it is just those two types, growing in power over time, making it appear like there are different types.

The two basic types: 1) the spirits of the dead who continue to linger haunting the material world, and 2) the bodies of the dead which have been animated with spirits from the astral world. (A rare third type also exists: humans who intentionally remove their spirits from their bodies in order to ensure personal immortality, which I will discuss as an addendum to this essay.)

Life versus Unlife

In order to understand the developmental path of the undead, we must understand the basis of their "unlife". Undead creatures are spirit beings who have been thrust, by their will or by anothers, into the material world. They are unlike material creatures in that they require "spirit energy" to survive, not the energy of the material world which sustains normal living creatures.

The positive energy of the material world, called mana, originates in the sun. Plants are full of this mana energy, as is fresh water (due to its absorption of high-intensity mana while in cloud form). Humans and other animals maintain their life force by consuming this mana energy from fresh water and plants. Mana is literally our life-sustaining food.

However, mana energy is extremely destructive to the undead. All forms of undead avoid sunlight at all costs, and the surest way to destroy them is through prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Undead will also be killed by immersion in running water, because such water is pregnant with the sun's mana.

Rather than subsisting on positive mana energy of the material world, the undead subsist on the negative spirit energy of the astral plane. Humankind, being uniquely "two-dimensional" creatures, in which a spiritual soul is combined with a material body, are thus uniquely prey for undead.

Trapped in a halfway-house existence between the astral and material plane, the undead are cursed to a perpetual hunger which can only be satiated through the consumption of astral energy. Thus, the undead are perpetually seeking to feed on the spiritual essences of the material creatures around them.

The Development of Ghost-type Undead

The first type of undead creature begins its unlife as a barely detectable force, with no real power to harm the living. This otherwise harmless spirit creature, however, seeks to cause fear in living targets, or perhaps to leech off the fear and suffering of dying creatures. By feeding upon that fear, which is a release of spirit energy, the spirit being feeds itself and grows stronger. This type of early-stage spirit creature has previously been classified as a Trilloch or as a Phantom (0 hd).

As this spirit creature grows in strength, it begins to develop an ethereal body. Being an ethereal form, it cannot be harmed by normal means, but can only by affected by silver or magical weapons. Using this ever-so-slightly-solid form to affect material objects, its main design continues to be causing and feeding upon fear and suffering. This stage was previously classified as a Poltergeist (1 hd). The Will-o-the-Wisp might be related to this stage, further research is needed.

Its next stage of development, while still lacking the substance to launch physical attacks, sees the beginning of its ability to forcibly possess a living victim. This stage has been called the Astral Searcher (2 hd).

As the creature continues to grow in ethereal substance and power, it appears as a indistinct dark substance, and begins its ability to drain energy from its victims through its unholy touch. At first, this energy draining power is minor, affecting a small amount of STR or DEX, on a temporary basis. This form has been classified as a Shadow (3 hd) and as a Haunt (5 hd).

Shortly, the creature's power grows much greater, able to suck the life out of a human with one touch. This is called its Wraith stage (5 + 3 hd), and as its life-stealing power grows even greater, its Spectre stage (7 + 3 hd).

At its highest stage of power, the creature can suck the life out of a victim who merely looks at it or hears its groaning. By this time, the creature has amassed so much spirit energy in its ethereal form that it is extremely difficult to destroy even with magical weapons. In this stage, the creature has been classified as an Apparition (8 hd), a Banshee (7 hd), a Vision (8 hd), and a Ghost (10 hd).

The Development of Zombie-type Undead

The second class of the undead is made up of dead bodies which have been re-animated with astral spirits. These creatures start out from the opposite end of the spectrum from the Ghost-type undead: rather than starting 99% astral, they start as 99% material. However, their mode of feeding and growth remains the same: consumption of spirit energy.

Like the ghost-type undead, the zombie-type undead feed off of the fear of those who behold them. They also have the advantage of being able to physically attack their victims, in order to consume the spirit energy contained in their material body. Thus, the physical undead are known for devouring the brains, hearts, blood, and other vital organs of their victims, which are the primary locations of a person's spirit energy.

Through the consumption of this astral spirit energy, zombie-type undead become more and more like their ghost-type counterparts. Their body transitions to a material-ethereal hybrid state which cannot be harmed by normal weapons and their touch becomes life-draining.

In the first stage of this creature's development, the creature is slow and barely sentient, has no life draining powers, and is vulnerable to regular weapons. He is classified as the basic zombie (2 hd).

By feeding upon a sufficient amount of astral energy in the form of fresh brains and organs, the creature shifts his body slightly into the etheric state, as well as gains more speed, strength, and sentience. In these stages the creature has been called a Coffer Corpse (2 hd), and a Juju Zombie (3 + 12 hd).

At some point, the creature then gains the ability to drain a moderate amount of lifeforce through its very touch, typically resulting in paralyzation of its victim. In this stage, the creature was classified as a Ghoul (3 hd) or a Ghast (4hd).

Its next stage of development sees a dramatic increase in its life draining power, able to kill a human with a single touch. It has been known as a Wight in this stage (4 + 3 hd).

In its highest stage of advancement, having absorbed a tremendous amount of astral energy, the creature has attained immunity to even some magical weapons. His physical form has attained almost super-human physical strength, as well as the ability to phase shift into a mist-like astral/physical substance, and its life draining power is at least twice as deadly as in its previous stage. In this stage, the creature is known as a Vampire (8 + 3 hd).

The Mummy-type Variant

An interesting variation of solid-type undead occurs when the dead body had been thoroughly wrapped in funeral dressings before being reanimated. The dead body under the rags continues to fester and decay, resulting in walking mass of disease-ridden putrefaction.

It continues to feast upon fear, terror, and suffering, and attains its material-etheric hybrid state making it immune to regular weapons. However, being thoroughly wrapped, it cannot touch for life-draining effects. Instead, its touch spreads hideous diseases. In its various states of development, it has been classified as a Huecuva (2 hd), Son of Kyuss (4 hd), and a Mummy (6 hd).

The Voluntarily Undead

The final type of undead is a result of humans who have removed the souls from their bodies intentionally, as a means of attaining immortality. Magic Users and Clerics who do so are known as Liches, while others who do so are known as Skeletal Warriors.

Splitting their soul from their body, storing their soul in a gem or other non-decaying object, their body is left technically dead. Under normal circumstances, their disembodied soul remains in control of their undead body, but if another gains possession of their soul-containing object, that person can potentially exert control over the undead body as well.

The dark methods used to cause this transformation are known to involve murder of an unwilling victim. It appears that the harnessing of that sacrificial astral energy empowers the undead transition, providing the great physical power and hybrid etheric state that is exhibited by the other powerful undead creatures.

Implications for Game Play

The DM should consider himself free to break out of the "published canon", to mix and match various undead effects, as long as they are appropriate to the "stage of growth". Consider building an undead monster by starting with the HD level.

Thus, break out of the mold! A 4 hd Juju Zombie, whose touch causes loss of DEX, for example... A 4 hd Shadow that attempts a "possession"... An 8 hd Specter that causes aging on sight.... A Banshee whose touch drains levels, the sight of which causes paralyzation, that kind of thing.

It could certainly keep the players on their toes, and bring a certain amount of respect and mystery back to the undead phenomena, which are SUPPOSED to be terrifying and mysterious.

Dare we even dispense the "clerical turning" power? Especially if you run a "pre-Christian" campaign, such as the AZ Adventures primitive milieu, there is no basis for assuming holy men have automatic power over the undead. Strong light and mana-rich substances in general "turn back" the undead, let the players figure it out from there.

It gives a new meaning to the Samhain rituals, doesn't it, as the pagan priests relit the sacred bonfire on the night the dead walked the earth. The heat and light of the powerful bonfire would be releasing tons of mana energy, keeping the undead at bay.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Primitive Magic Considered

Magic in the primitive, Dawn of Civ campaign is going to be quite different than what we are used to the standard late-medieval campaign milieu.  Even in our standard late-medieval milieu, we often conceive of magic as a science with ancient roots and substantial development.    Stripping away this implicit-ancientness of the magical arts, and returning magic to its primitive foundations, results in a unique  "new look and fee" for the magic using class.
To begin, we must delineate the exact domain of magic: the harnessing of the natural magical energy of the material world.  The prime characteristic of magic users is INT, because magic is a science, like chemistry and physics. Rather, magic is an applied science, like engineering, built upon the laws of chemistry and physics.  In the primitive setting, there are no "schools" of magic, although individual magic users might specialize in particular areas of magical research.
The Creativity of the Magic Process 
The magic of the primitive world has not been encompassed by books containing standard spell lists.  Magic use is open and creative.   Spell creation is not limited by level.  In fact, the creation of spells and magical formulae is what defines a powerful magic user.   An intelligent magic user is open to harnessing new magical powers at all times, in an on-going investigation of the magical world itself.  He can benefit from the spell books of other magic users, but he is not limited by them. 
For example, the magical effect of Charm Person could be created from the voice box of the Siren, and contained in various forms, such as a powder, a wafer, or a potion, which when consumed, would allow the magic user to charm via his song.  
A Charm Person spell created from the body of a Will O Wisp, however, would have a slightly different power and method of application, perhaps better suited for a wand which would release magical lights, charming its viewers. 
Compared to Clerics and Psionics
Magic does not deal directly with the spirit realm, that is the domain of the cleric.  Nor does it rely on "mentalist powers", that is the domain of the Psionic.  We can expect that there would be very little crossover in the powers of the cleric and the magic user, because their power is based on different realms: the spiritual for the cleric, the material for the magic user. 
Nor is magic simply a synonym for "fantasy wish fulfillment", meaning, a way to satisfy any imaginary possibility.  If a magic user is to make some magical effect, it must be based on the sound principles of magical science.    A magic user is not a god, who can make anything happen, a la the "wish spell".   Gygax seems to regret inventing such an illogical spell, judging by the ways he is constantly limiting its power and scope. 
The Efficacy of Power Words and Symbols
Power words and symbols were learned from the magical creatures of the world, literally imitating their sounds and languages.  However, for humans, the sounds by themselves are ineffectual.  The sounds must be accompanied by the magical substances.  For example, a magical powder or elixir, inhaled or drunk, THEN the power words spoken, with the magical substance covering the throat, releases a powerful burst of magic. 
Humans themselves are mundane, non-magical creatures.  Only when their actions and words are accompanied by magical substances can they create magical spells.   As a corollary, we can see that magical spells are not "memorized" for efficacy.   Spell use on a daily basis is limited to the magic users CON score, because channeling magical power through his body is stressful and draining.  Magic stored and released through magic items, such as wands or scrolls, do not drain his bodily power, and are not limited by his CON score. 
The Hatred of Magic Users
Magic Users, and humans in general by association, are hated by magical creatures, because of the exploitative method of magical ingredient harvesting.    Boots of Elvenkind, for example, are not boots created BY elvenkind, but are boots OF elvenkind.    As you can imagine, elvenkind does not appreciate having their foot skins harvested for the making of human boots...    Nevertheless, humans value such boots greatly, as they allow their wearers to move silently through the forests. 
The only humans free from this stigma attached to magic users are Barbarians, who steadfastly refuse to engage in magic or use magical items. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Spirits, Gods, Sacrifice, Miracles, Druids, & Clerics - in Primitive Theology

AZ Adventures is attempting to create a "Dawn of Civilization" mood and milieu.   The hardest part about creating a Dawn of Civ campaign environment is dealing with religion.  (Secondarily, magic, but primarily, religion.) 
We have a terribly hard time relating to the primitive religious mind, because it was not just a set of different beliefs, those beliefs were embedded in an entirely different worldview.    The Gygaxian cosmology is an expression of a modern worldview and a modern understanding of religion.   It is totally inappropriate for modeling the primitive theology.   
As I have already discussed, the primitive worldview was a "closed cosmology", with the earth at the middle of a cosmic sphere.   That part is easy enough to understand.  Maybe hard to adjust to, but easy to understand.   The really hard part is abandoning the idea of personal gods located on other planes.   This is especially difficult because it strikes to the heart of our understanding of the cleric class.
Dualism Defined
AZ adventures primitive theology is based on the idea of simple dualism: a material plane and a spiritual plane.  The spiritual plane is where life force resides. Life force permeates the material world, waiting to break forth in spiritual power.   Most spiritual force is most obviously expressed through the living things of the world, such as plants and animals.  
However, spirits can potentially inhabit any material body, thus we have the spirit of the wind, the sun, the forest, the mountain, the earth, the lake, and so on.   In game terms, these are the elementals.  The primitive mind would consider them gods of nature, and druids/shamans attain their spiritual power directly from this source. 
Spirits and the Undead
When we die, our spiritual force is separated from the body.   Some spirits travel onward to a different location in the spirit world.   Many simply fade away, either right away or over time.  Other spirits remain to haunt the material world.  These spirits are of two types: blessed spirits or hungry ghosts.  
Blessed spirits are those who are kept well-fed with positive spiritual energy, given to them by the living in the form of thanksgiving, praise, remembrance, and, best of all, ritual sacrifice. 
Hungry ghosts are spirits who are starving for spiritual energy, so they seek to take it by force from the living.  In game terms, these are the undead. 
Notice how many gods demand sacrifice of blood, which is a gift of powerful spiritual energy. This is not different, in spiritual terms, from how a vampire feeds.  Burnt sacrifices are a similar transfer of life force, either the spiritual power of the living creature burnt in sacrifice, or the spiritual energy given to a sacrificed object by its human creator.
The Nature of Gods
Spirits with lots of spiritual energy have the ability to affect things in the material world, from minor effects to miracles.   A spirit that exhibits concern for the living will get greater prayer and more sacrifice, and as a result, will accumulate greater spiritual power.  This virtuous cycle can result in the spirit eventually being worshipped as a god.  Many of the "gods" of a people were once their living heroes whose resting place became a location of pilgrimage.    
However, spirits, even ones that rise to the rank of powerful gods, are not infinite, nor omniscient.   They are powerful spirit people, but they are located in specific locations, usually connected with their physical remains.  Thus, spiritual power can be found at their grave site, or even in their physical remains (especially their bones, which often become handled as sacred relics).  
Gods, as spirit beings tied to a specific location, cannot know what is going on in far distant locations, but can only be made aware by what others tell them.  Rarely, the spiritual power of a god can be mobile.  For example, its sacred relics could be carried around in an ark.  Or the god's sacred throne, or representative statue, could be moved to a new location. 
The Location of Spiritual Power
Thus, spiritual power comes from interaction with specific locations of power in the world, not from praying to disembodied spirits on other planes.   Holy objects are made spiritually powerful by their physical proximity to the the spiritual power of the god.  Thus, the dirt around the courtyard, the water in the sacred pool, the chalice used to receive the sacrificial blood, these are supercharged with divine power. 
This helps explain why the physical holy symbol is considered the material component of "clerical spells": through its special construction and consecration, it was charged with spiritual power. 
Implications for Clerics
Clerics themselves are defined as a class by their close connection to the spirit world.   Their WIS is a measure of their natural connection with the spirit world.  Unlike magic users, they are not adept at harnessing the natural magic of the material world.  Instead, cleric spells are characterized by their effect on the underlying spiritual nature of the material world.  
By harnessing their natural connection to the spirit world with disciplined study and devotion, clerics becomes powerful manipulators of spirit energy in their own right, living manifestations of their deity, possessed by the god's spirit and will, and requiring periodic recontact with their spiritual source for recharging.  This also helps explain why clerics spread the worship of their god, as the power gained by their god is essentially power gained by them personally.   

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Astral Plane, Etherealness, and Undead Explained - corrections to the neo-Gygaxian vision

The Gygaxian vision of the astral and ethereal planes is largely functional: they are a way to get to the other planes.  I think this is slightly misleading, causing a great deal of confusion, and does a disservice to the potential of the astral realm.  [To put this in context, this whole thing comes about from my considerations of how to incorporate the Githyanki and Githzerai into the AZ Adventures campaign, as both of these races are said to actually live on the Astral Plane.  This led me to think about exactly how we can interact with that plane, and forced me to confront what I see as some weaknesses in the Gygaxian and neo-Gygaxian/4e worldviews.]
The most important thing to realize about the Astral Plane is that it is not really separate from the material plane.  Rather, it overlaps with the material plane.  It is the material plane, but on a slightly different wavelength.  Meaning, the physical geography of the material plane is the same physical geography of the astral plane.    But the wavelength of "life energy" is different.  That is, different forms of life inhabit the astral plane (although certain creatures can interact with both, as discussed below). 
Astral = Spirit Plane
The astral plane is the location for "spirit beings".   Because humans are "spirits in the material world", certain people can project their spirits out of their bodies and interact directly with the beings in the astral plane.  This is the psionic discipline of Astral Projection, and the cleric spell Astral Travel.   Some people contact the astral plane in their dreams, as their spirit leaves their body and travels around.  The psionic disciplines of Clairaudience and Clairvoyance are essentially astral projections into nearby locations, allowing one to hear or see what is going on there. 
 A "spirit being", i.e., one on the astral plane, can be in the very same room as you, and you normally wouldn't know it.  Your entire city might have ghostly astral beings all throughout it, but only psychics would be aware of it.   In the 1e MM, certain monsters have vision which extends into the astral plane, especially ones with gaze attacks.   Thus, if you attempted to spy on someone with Astral Projection, Clairaudience, or Clairvoyance, you could be setting yourself up for danger if their awareness extends into the spirit realm. 
What it Looks Like
In some depictions, the spirit world is visually indistinct from the material world, and spirits might not even realize they are spirits.  However, in other more "spooky" depictions, the astral plane is like a "dark, misty-moisty" version of the material world.  It is a world of swirling vapors, and home to what Gygax calls the "psychic wind".  This "dark, misty-moisty" feel is the version appropriate in the gaming milieu, in my opinion. 
This is why dark, foggy nights are so primally terrifying.  They remind us of the spirit realm, which most people only vaguely remember from their nightmares.  This is also why people need a silver cord when astrally traveling, as the unguided spirit in the dark fogginess of the astral realm would get permanently lost.  
Etherealness - the Astral and Material Come Together
At certain times, the two planes come fully together.  Think of Samhain, the last night of the year, when the spirits of the dead walk the earth.  This actually gave us Halloween, as the living are forced to dress as the dead to avoid attack, and to leave out sacrificial gifts to placate the hungry spirit beings.   
Ethereal bodies do not exist in their own plane, i.e, there is no ethereal plane.  Rather, being in an ethereal state means that a material body is "phase shifting" between the astral and material planes.  This allows the ethereal body to pass through physical objects, the way astral bodies can pass through material objects on the astral plane.
Its Relation to the Undead
The astral plane is where common (non-monster) ghosts reside.  A ghost haunting happens when someone's body is gone, but their spirit seeks to linger on the material plane, refusing to go on.  Thus, they inhabit the world, but only in spirit form, and are thus invisible and normally unable to affect material objects. These common ghosts are low-powered astral beings, and can occasionally summon enough energy to perform only some small actions in the material world, blowing out a small flame, knocking a picture down, whispering in a soft voice, that kind of thing. 
Astral beings can also attempt to inhabit a material body, leading to possessions (a hostile takeover), as well as channeling by psychic mediums (a friendly takeover).  This is the common-sense and popular definition of the astral plane, one that we see depicted in such movies as Ghost, and Sixth Sense, as well as numerous horror movies. 
A high-powered astral being can rise to dangerous monster status, taking the form, in game terms, of a Ghost, a Banshee, or a Specter.  What separates a "low-powered" astral being from a "high-powered" astral being is the among of spirit energy it has consumed.    The astral plane is the spirit plane, so beings there must survive on spirit energy, especially terror, rage, and so on.
Undead monsters are manifestations out of the spirit plane, and so, to a greater or lesser degree, they are basically ethereal in nature  This is clearly seen in the case of Vampires, who can dissolve their bodies into gaseousness, which is the material manifestation of astral substance.  It also explains the blood drinking habit, which is their way of consuming spirit energy, which, as spirit beings, they require to survive.
The level draining power of the undead is also explained by seeing them as ethereal manifestations of astral/spirit beings.  The touch of the undead has such a devastating effect on the living because the undead are attacking the astral-spirit body of the material creature.  They are directly affecting the life-force of the living creature on the astral plane, separating it from their material shell, thus causing the horrible aging and level draining effects.   
This helps explain why most undead creatures (as well as demonic and angelic beings) can be hit only by magical weapons.   Being ethereal, phase shifting from the astral to the material, normal weapons pass through them without harm.   Magical weapons, being imbued with "spirit energy", can affect them, just as the magical gaze of creatures like the Basilisk  can affect astral and ethereal bodies. 
Application to the Githyanki and Githzerai
Etherealness being the "phase shift" of material bodies into an astral state (and vice versa) is the key to understanding the odd nature of Githyanki and Githzerai, who are said to live on the astral plane.   The Githyanki were originally material beings, but through their psionic powers, attained the ability to shift their bodies to an extreme ethereal state, and thereby live unseen on the astral plane.   They operate most of the time in the safety of the astral realm, but because they are still material beings, they need to travel back to the material world as well. 
The emaciated bodies of the Githyanki are because of their prolonged separation from the material world.  Their bodies, lacking food, water, air, sunshine and so on, are perpetually wasting away.   This leads directly to their "almost skeletal" appearance.  
The penchant for savage, gratuitous violence and general evil is also explained by their prolonged residence on the astral plane.  Like other spirit beings on the astral plane, they gain sustenance from spirit energy.  They have learned from the undead how to feed upon negative human emotions, and like the undead, they will victimize people in order to create this horrible feast.  The Githyanki are, literally, a half-undead race.
The Githzerai are both less evil and less skeletal, exhibiting the fact that they spend less of their time in an ethereal state on the astral plane, and more of their time in the material world.  
In a subsequent post I will provide the setting and hooks for these amazing psionic creatures in the AZ Adventures campaign.         

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Psionic MegaMonster - Mind Flayers: the Sith Lords of D&D

Mind Flayers are EPIC, straight up.  The are the kind of arch-foe you can design a campaign around.  Using them as some random creature encounter in some room in a dungeon is a complete waste, not to mention totally illogical.  It is almost a certainty that any dungeon they are in, they are the masters of.  Consider the following. 
Their Intelligence Considered
Let's start with their lawful evil alignment and genius-level intelligence.  They WILL be well prepared, and they WILL have contingency plans. That means they will not be easy to kill, and they most certainly will not fight to the death.  In other words, they should NOT be played like "psionic orcs".  
Mind Flayers are the ultimate EVIL GENIUSES.    For one, that means they have PLANS, big plans...  For two, that means they have slaves, lots of slaves.  And minions, lots of minions.  They look at the world world like we look at the animals in the zoo: a bunch of lesser beings to be collected and manipulated as they see fit.  
They leave nothing to chance, they have thought out the moves ahead of time, and they taken precautions.   They will have foreseen every danger and opportunity, and just about anything done to oppose them, like a chess grandmaster, they will have moved their pieces to be ready, ahead of time.  
The hard part about playing Mind Flayers is playing them with GENIUS intelligence, as that means, frankly, they are smarter than we are. Keep in mind, the only things as smart as them, among evil creatures, are liches and demon/devil lords.  Use them as such!
Think of the Rebel Alliance in Return of the Jedi.  They thought they were getting somewhere, planning a secret attack on the under-construction new Death Star, sacrificing their Bothan spies to gain crucial information, sneaking around in stolen ships to penetrate the Empire's defenses....   But in reality, IT WAS A TRAP!     The Emperor was controlling the situation the whole time!    They were just performing as pawns in his evil scheme!  Mind Flayers are like THAT.  They own you, and you don't even know it yet.   The even attack like the Emperor: look at their entry in the MM, holding out their hands, frying those poor suckers with brain waive bolts through the air.... 
Their Physical Powers Considered
They are 8+4 HD, with AC 5, in other words, NOT easy to kill, even in hand to hand combat.  Each one of its 4 attacks per round means INSTANT DEATH in 1-4 rounds.  It will SUCK YOUR BRAINS OUT, in exactly d4 rounds!  Do you really want to rely on "d4" rounds to get that thing's tentacles out of your nostrils???  Not just no, HELL NO! 
An 8 HD monster, with 4 attacks per round, that will lead to instant death.  HOLY SHIT!   Their THACO is a fricken 12!  Who wants to mess with a monster like that???  No one with any sanity would come anywhere near it.  If you are powerful enough to kill it in 1-4 rounds, it will know it (see Their Psionic Powers Considered below), and it will come no where near you!  It is not dumb.
Their magical resistance: 90 FRICKEN %!     9 out of 10 spells you throw at it, it will just shrug off, no need to even save, just totally and completely unaffected.  In other words, you are burning through a busload of your best stuff, magical ultra-shit that lays waste to armies, and that Mind Flayer in front of you is just like, "Meh".   What are you going to do now, bad man?  Go hit it with your staff?  And expose yourself to the 4 brain-sucking face tentacles??? 
They can physically levitate at will, as well as feather fall and walk on water (Body Equilibrium).  A nice addition in combat for sure, but just think of the possibilities that gives for its lair....   It will NOT be your standard flat layout dungeon with flat levels and locked doors.  If you can't levitate up and down tubes, for example, you have no hope of reaching it.   
Their Psionic Powers Considered
Let's start with Domination.  It can simply take over your mind and force you to do its will.  You get a save vs magic, or it can tell you to jump off a cliff, or stick your sword through your best friend's eye.  Yes, Domination CAN force you to do self-destructive things.  It costs "double or triple" the psionic points, but, trust me, it has plenty to spare.    Of course, domination also means it can control other monsters, using them as its bodyguards for example, sicking them on you at key moments of its devising...
ESP, yup, they got that.  It can read your mind, NO SAVING THROW.    This is part of the reason it is always so well-prepared against your attacks.  This bitch is DANCING IN YOUR HEAD.   All of your secrets, all of your plans, all of your tactics, all of your weaknesses, are now its knowledge.   Your twin sister you were hiding from him, he knows that shit now too, sucka. 
Astral Projection means it can spy on you, or any one else for that matter, using its astral body. Another reason why its preparations are so meticulous.  If you are on its radar as an enemy, it will be using astral travel to keep tabs on you, probably laying traps and obstacles in your way as it can.  If you dare enter its lair, it will spy on you with its astral body, and do an ESP scan, before it ever comes into your physical presence.  Think about it!
Probability Travel means that it doesn't just "run away", it can blink its body out of trouble, traveling to the ethereal plane, then onward to who knows where.  It can actually blink two other people out with it.  Nice way to kidnap someone, don't you think?    If it gets in trouble in its lair here, it just blinks out and escapes to its well-prepared fortress in the other reality.  How you gonna kill this thing???
Oh yeah, of course it also has 241-340 points of psionic ability.  Let me remind you, this is at the max upper range of anything a given human could have.   
Even if you are a non-psionic, it will Psionic Blast the shit out of you.  You get a save based on your INT+WIS.  Failing your savings throw, the average range of people will be stunned, confused , enraged, or panicked.   The smarter you are, the more likely you will be driven insane!
Their Treasure Considered
If you somehow manage to chase it out of its lair, you stand to reap a decent haul.  Treasure type B is a large cross section of metal coins, although they are at a low percentage chance.    Types S and T offer the possibility of potions and scrolls.  Type X offers a good chance of a miscellaneous magical item plus a potion.    Hardly seems worth it, if you ask me.    Given around 36 hp, you will get 2232 XP for defeating it.  Shit, good luck with that. 
Adventuring Hooks
Mentally unbalanced high-level PCs might consider invading the lair of these things, just for the shits and giggles of the Cthulu experience.  For the most part, PCs will probably have to be enticed to engage these wicked beings.   Some ideas:
--Mind Flayers as worship object of an evil cult: in the attempt to wipe out a wicked human-sacrifice cult, PCs are lea into the Mind Flayers' underground lair.  Location: Chaco Canyon
--Mind Flayers as evil geniuses behind human wars: troubles are being stirred up, and investigation leads to Mind Flayer influence which needs to be stamped out.  Location: Flagstaff
--Gith intrigue: Githzerai war parties come to the local human authorities to request clearance to engage in Mind Flayer hunting; PCs sent to tag along, monitor progress, and perhaps assist.  Location: any city
--Grimlock invasion: Access to subterranean world opened up following Grimlock attack upon the upper world, Mind Flayers as the ultimate instigators.  Location: any city

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chaco Canyon and the Anasazi - adventure hooks

Chaco Canyon is just barely "off the map" right now for AZ Adventures, but offers some fascinating hooks for adventuring. In fact, it is so close, and so cool, I might have to extend "the map" a bit, to include them.

The Chaco Canyon settlement complex was the center of Anasazi civilization, and at its peak, contained some 5,000 residents, uniting the larger Anasazi population throughout the Four Corners area. Chaco Canyon itself (an cool place, I camped there in college) is located in the NW corner of New Mexico.

Chaco Canyon region in the red box
Chaco Canyon region in red box

Although most of New Mexico drains into the headwaters of the Rio Grande, and is thus naturally south-ward directed, the very northwestern edge of the state (including the Chaco area and present-day Farmington), drains into the San Juan River, which feeds Lake Powell, and is thus part of the greater-AZ watershed region.

Close-up of the San Juan River basin feeding Lake Powell

The region is also brought into contact with AZ because it is to the immediate east of the Chuska Mtns, where Canyon de Chelly, the homeland of the Dineh, is located. The Chaco Canyon Anasazi made roads that extended all the way to the Chuska Mtns, where they harvested timber and other resources, and so this Anasazi civ would be in loose contact with the Dineh tribes of AZ. The Chinle Creek running by Canyon de Chelly actually drains north into the above-mentioned San Juan River.

Chuska Mountain region

Route 666 (following our I-40) runs right south of the area, and thus trade relations with northern AZ would be natural, especially with the Derjuden of Flagstaff and the Monmore of Snowflake. The real-life Rt 666 (lately renamed to the less sinister-sounding Rt 491) runs straight north, immediately to the left of the Chaco Canyon area, as you can see in the map.

Chaco Canyon Roads

Anyway, one of the most amazing things about the Anasazi of the Chaco Canyon is their road system, which was clearly, but mysteriously, connected with their religious life. Hundreds of miles of roads ran outward like spokes from Chaco Canyon.

"The roads were built to an average width of 30 feet and carefully surveyed by unknown means so as cross the terrain in a virtually straight line. Little attention was paid to topography by the prehistoric road engineers; stairways, ramps, scaffolds and toeholds were cut into the stone when necessary. Many of the roads, particularly those closest to the canyon, had earthen berms or adobe curbs, signaling stations and roadside shrines. ... Many of the roads extend for a distance and then suddenly stop or run parallel to each other for long distances away from any settlements. Thus the Chacoan roads probably served multiple purposes — while some were functional, others may have served as symbols of spiritual values and/or used in formalized rituals."

(quotes from here:
These roads are eerily similar to the more-famous Nazca Lines in South America, famously connected to the idea of space travel by Erik Von Daniken. How else can we explain these absolutely straight lines extending across the desert, which the ground-based human eye cannot even see or appreciate? Clearly, they were meant to be seen from above. To me, this leads to one inescapable conclusion: Gith civilization! Which then connects us to the identity of Shiprock! Literally, a rock, a giant rock protruding up from the flat plain, that is actually a ship! (more in a future post on this subject....)

Anyway, so the Anasazi are the local humans, a distant relation to the Meso-American civilizations of the Mayans and Aztecs, who have some sort of connections to the Githyanki and their amazing sky ships. Yeah, adventuring hooks galore there, don't you think? Especially for a campaign which includes psionics! Oh yes, now you see why this is such a rich vein to mine for AZ Adventures....

The Mind Flayers come in here, too, definitely. The blood-thirsty, human-sacrificing Anasazi as friends/allies/worshippers of/tools of the Mind Flayers? Hmm, maybe, I will have to let that one marinate for awhile....

Crossing the Colorado - Lee's Ferry

Because of its steep canyon walls, in most places even getting down to the water of the Colorado River is difficult, and crossing it is a real chore.  One of the only places in the northern AZ region where the two sides of the river are easy-to-navigate gentle slopes, is a location about 7 miles south of Lake Powell, at a place known as Lee's Ferry.   The area is named after the Monmore man who led their southward mirgration from their Great Salt Lake homeland almost 200 years ago.    
Lee's Ferry began with some humble wooden rafts set up to get carts and heavy supplies across the river.  Crossing the river, the Monmore settlers then proceeded southward, past Marble Canyon, following the path of the Little Colorado down to their present location of Snowflake.  
The raft crossing gradually grew into an efficient ferry system, which is still maintained by the Monmore.  Today, aside from the river ferry itself, the location is home to a trading post and a fortification for the Monmore families living there full time. 
The Monmore control the crossing primarily as a point of strategic importance to them, providing access to and communication with their great Deseret Kingdom in the northern mountains.  Secondarily, it provides them with a steady stream of income, as various travelers and merchants seek passage across the river.   

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Storm Giant Ecology of AZ

The race of Storm Giants is immediately recognizable to the casual observer, given their green coloration, luminous purple hair, and humongous size. They are the largest in stature of all the giant races in Arizona, with many adult males rising up over 20 feet in height. Luckily for humankind, the Storm Giants seem to be generally non-aggressive. It is also to human good fortune that Storm Giants do not generally compete with humans for the same living space, preferring as they do to domicile among the rocky canyon lakes along the Colorado River.

Storm Giants are unique among the giant races for their magical ability. They seem to be connected in some mysterious way with the natural forces of the sea and the air, as they can walk upon the clouds or upon the lake-floor bottom with equal ease. Their racial name comes from the fact that violent storm weather seems to obey their command.

Population concentrations of Storm Giants can be found in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, although they can be found individually up and down the Colorado river, all the way into the Baja Gulf coast around Roc Point. They live in magnificent stone castles, which can be found carved in many fantastic cliff-side locations. They seem to dislike crowding, preferring to live alone or congregating in small family groups.

Storm Giants everywhere display an uncommon friendship with the animal creatures around them. They can be found cavorting playfully with all manner of large beasts, including rocs, griffons, dolphins, whales, and sea lions. They also seem to especially enjoy the company of the Brass Dragons of the Western Wasteland.

Storm Giants take great pleasure in defeating and humiliating the smaller race of Fire Giants, and will always bully and harass them when given the chance. Red dragons, they will simply and methodically slaughter, seemingly as a matter of policy. Other giant and dragon races, and other magical beasts in general, they seem to get along with on even terms. The typical diet of the Storm Giant is based on the giant fish and crustacean species found in the lakes along the river.

Because of their innate magical connection with the water and wind, their various bodily organs are highly prized by magic users for use in magical formulas. Needless to say, these highly intelligent giants take great offense at being targeted for slaughter for the sake of their natural magic, and they are extremely loath to associate with any humans as a consequence. Storm Giants are known to be especially hostile towards Derjuden merchants, who have a history of involvement in the Storm Giant organ trade. The humans who do manage to live and trade along the Colorado River seem to have some kind of deal worked out with them for safe passage and protection.

Monday, January 3, 2011

AZ Adventures Map and Movement

As you can see, AZ offers a rich variety of adventuring locales. Sand dunes, volcano fields, a coast line, major rivers, mountain forests, high altitude alpine regions, canyons, grasslands... AZ has it all.

The low level adventurer would not have access to this map's details, of course. Information would have to be acquired on the fly in most cases, and much of it would be presented to the adventurer as rumors to be pieced together and sorted through.

The human settlements are sparse, so careful trip planning is necessary. As DM, you will be aware of the rough distances between the major settled areas, but the players would certainly not have such information to start with, and would acquire it mainly in units of time, as in "a morning's journey on foot" or "3 days horseback ride distant", that kind of thing. Such information is certainly NOT guaranteed to be accurate, as the PCs might have to learn the hard way.

From the 1e DMG, we have the following guidelines in movement rates, in miles per day:

light burden (under 25 pounds):flat terrain - 30, rugged terrain - 20, very rugged - 10
average burden (26-60 pounds): flat - 20, rugged - 10, very rugged - 5
heavy burden (60-90 pounds): flat - 10, rugged - 5, very rugged - 2

Light horse: flat terrain - 60, rugged - 25, very rugged - 5
Medium horse: flat terrain - 40, rugged - 20, very rugged - 5
Heavy horse: flat terrain - 30, rugged - 15, very rugged - 5
draft horse: flat terrain - 30, rugged - 15, very rugged - 5
cart: flat terrain - 25, rugged - 15, very rugged - 0
wagon: flat terrain - 25, rugged - 10, very rugged - 0

Phoenix to Blythe 150 miles
Phoenix to Mesa 13 miles
Phoenix to Tucson 115 miles
Phoenix to Flagstaff 145 miles
Phoenix to Prescott 100 miles
Phoenix to Buckeye 36 miles
Phoenix to Laveen 14 miles
Phoenix to Wickenberg 53 miles
Buckeye to Gila Bend 33 miles
Flagstaff to Snowflake 115 miles (along rt 666)
Flagstaff to Sin City 250 miles
Flagstaff to Prescott 95 miles
Flagstaff to Canyon de Chelly 200 miles
Snowflake to Canyon de Chelly 100 miles
Blythe to Sin City 230 miles